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Do I Need a Lawyer to File for Bankruptcy in Avenal, CA

Do I Need a Lawyer to File for Bankruptcy in Avenal, CA


The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.
 
- Nelson Mandela


Corporations and partnerships must have an attorney to file a bankruptcy case. Individuals, however, may represent themselves in bankruptcy court.

In many cases, it's a good idea to have a bankruptcy attorney. However, many petitioners file for bankruptcy without a lawyer. Some represent themselves in bankruptcy because they cannot afford the lawyer's fees. Others have simple cases, and don't feel the need to hire a lawyer. Even the simplest Chapter 7 bankruptcy requires extensive paperwork, gathering of financial documentation, research of bankruptcy and exemption laws, and follow up with local rules and procedures.

Bankruptcy rules are very technical, and a misstep may affect a debtor's rights. For example, a debtor whose case is dismissed for failure to file a required document, such as a credit counseling certificate, may lose the right to file another case or lose protections in a later case, including the benefit of the automatic stay. Bankruptcy has long-term financial and legal implications, so it is very important to do it right. An individual filing for bankruptcy must list all property and debts in their bankruptcy schedules. If a debt is not listed, it is possible the debt will not be discharged.

The simpler the bankruptcy, the better your chances are to successfully complete it and receive a discharge on your own. So it's usually more feasible to file without an attorney if you are filing a simple Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

If your household income is low and you own little or no assets, and you don't have any priority debts or creditors alleging fraud against you, then your case may be simple enough for you to handle without an attorney.

Bankruptcies filed under Chapter 13 can be more complex than Chapter 7. If you are underwater on your mortgage payments, and if your second mortgage is worth less than your first mortgage, you may be able to use Chapter 13 bankruptcy to "strip" the second mortgage (discharge it in bankruptcy). If you owe more than your car is worth, through a process known as "loan cram down," you may be able to negotiate a Chapter 13 payment plan based on what the car is actually worth, as opposed to the value of the car loan.

You may choose to file a Chapter 13 to take advantage of these benefits or simply because you make too much money to qualify for a Chapter 7. No matter what your reason is, it generally means that your case may be too difficult to file on your own.

In Chapter 13 bankruptcies, in addition to filing the official bankruptcy forms, you must also design a proposed repayment plan, which can be very difficult to do. Stripping your second mortgage or cramming down a car loan will usually require filing additional motions and paperwork with the court.

So, if you are planning to file a Chapter 13 or a complex Chapter 7, it is a good idea to hire a qualified attorney. Your Chapter 7 will usually be more complex if you own a business, have high income, own significant assets, or have creditors who may claim fraud. If any of the above applies to you, you risk having your case dismissed, your assets being taken and sold, or facing a lawsuit in your bankruptcy to determine that certain debts should not be discharged. In that case, it is advisable to hire an attorney to handle your bankruptcy.

Bankruptcy fraud is a crime and the presiding judge may also deny the discharge of all debts if a debtor does something dishonest in connection with the bankruptcy case, such as transferring assets to friends and family, destroying or hiding property, falsifying records, or lying. Individual bankruptcy cases are randomly audited to determine the accuracy, truthfulness, and completeness of the information that the debtor is required to provide.

Individual debtors are generally required to obtain credit counseling from an approved provider within 180 days before filing a case, and to file a statement of compliance and a certificate of credit counseling furnished by the provider. Failure to do so may result in dismissal of the case.

Homeowners who are having trouble or have fallen behind in making their mortgage payments may have options that would allow them to avoid foreclosure and bankruptcy, starting with renegotiating with the mortgage lender. However, please beware of marketing offers made once your house is in foreclosure - there are a number of fraudulent schemes specifically directed at individuals facing foreclosure.

Only you can decide if hiring a lawyer is right for you. Check out 12Law.com for listings of lawyers in your neighborhood.
 
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