Every bankruptcy case has a trustee assigned to it by the court. (The trustee is usually an experienced bankruptcy attorney who has qualified through the Court to serve.) The trustee has many duties, and one of them is to conduct a meeting of creditors for each case. Section 341 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code requires the trustee to orally examine the bankruptcy debtor at the meeting of creditors. Section 343 specifies that this examination is to be performed with the debtor under oath.
What does this mean for you practically? You and your attorney will appear at the date, time and place in the meeting notice. You will produce a valid form of photo ID (such as a drivers license) and social security card, and will be sworn under oath. The trustee will then question you about your petition and about other documents (such as income tax returns and paystubs) which your attorney submitted to the trustee as required prior to the meeting. The trustee will also provide you with some information as required under the Bankruptcy Code.
It is important that you review your petition before going to the meeting so that your answers to the trustee’s questions are consistent with the contents of the petition. Also, the trustee can adjourn the meeting in order to allow you to provide other information and/or documentation which the trustee needs to evaluate your case.
What about the creditors? The court notifies all creditors listed in your bankruptcy petition of the date, time and place of the hearing. Any creditor (usually through a local attorney) may appear and question you about the details of your petition and about the creditor’s claim. Ninety nine point nine percent of the time, no creditor will appear (particularly in the case of a “no asset” Chapter 7 filing). However, there is always that possibility, and your attorney may participate to ensure that the creditor’s attorney does not harass you.
While you can certainly file for bankruptcy without an attorney, the fact that you will be testifying under oath before a bankruptcy trustee is certainly reason enough to retain counsel to prepare, assist and protect you throughout your entire bankruptcy proceeding.