Anyone who files for bankruptcy relief has to attend a Section 341 Meeting of Creditors (or Creditors Meeting). This is a requirement under the bankruptcy code, and a debtor will not receive his discharge if he fails to appear at the date and time set for his creditors meeting. Instead, his case will be dismissed, and the debtor has to re-file and face the consequences associated with that.
Now, the creditors meeting sounds like a pretty scary concept. For one, you have to go to the bankruptcy court for it. Two, it’s called the ‘creditors meeting’!! Your creditors are the reason why you are here in the first place, and many of you have had just about enough of them. All in all, though, it is not that scary, and 9 out of 10 of my clients walk out of their creditors meeting going “that was it?”.
As I said, the code mandates that a creditors meeting takes place. This process is virtually the same for Chapter 7 debtors as well as Chapter 13 debtors. The court schedules the date and time of your creditors meeting after your petition has been filed and a trustee has been assigned to your case. This date can only be changed in extraordinary circumstances, and I typically recommend not changing it, as delaying your creditors meeting inevitably means a delay of your discharge. The date is approximately 30 days after your petition has been filed. As your attorney, I get notified via email within about 24 – 48 hours of the exact time and date. Within a few days after that, the official Notice of Creditors Meeting is sent not only to you, but to all of your creditors as well.
In Arizona, the appointments are set in half-hour increments, and each half-hour portion of the day is assigned to a number of different cases filed in the same Chapter. This of course means that (a) your creditors meeting is neither private nor confidential, but (b) all the other folks there are there for the same reason you are: To avail yourself of the relief granted to you by the bankruptcy code.
While the creditors meeting may take place in the actual court building, it is not held in the court room, and the judge will not be there. Instead, the trustee assigned to your case runs the show. On your appointed time, you will enter the room along with your attorney, and all the other debtors assigned for the same time slot. The trustee will call your name and you are then required to provide him with a photo id as well as proof of your social security number (i.e. your social security card).
The trustee then swears you in. The law requires that the trustee asks you a number of questions under oath. This is important, because even if you have to discuss something that may cause your case to hiccup a bit with the trustee, doing so is really the only option that you have: Perjury – or lying under oath – is a crime – and whatever the hiccup, it’s not worth it. The standard questions the trustee asks are always pretty much the same. A few examples include:
- Have you assisted in the preparation of the petition and schedules filed in your case?
- Is all the information true and accurate?
- How long have you lived in Arizona?
- Have you ever filed for bankruptcy before?
You know, standard stuff – things your attorney can talk to you about before the creditors meeting ever takes place, if only to calm your nerves. Once that portion of the questioning is done, the trustee then has the chance to ask you any other questions he may have about the information contained in your schedules. These questions are typically related to your assets, such as ‘how did you come up with the value for that grandfather clock’ or ‘what is your interest in the XYZ partnership exactly, and what kind of returns are you expecting’. These questions are a little harder to predict, as they are based on your specific case, but a good attorney will know how to issue spot your petition and give you an idea of what kind of questions might be expected, if any.
Now, about the creditors…. it is called a creditors meeting after all. The bottom line on that is they have the right to appear and question you under oath, but they hardly ever do. I have only had one instance of a creditor showing up, and that was coordinate the surrender of my clients vehicle. Now, I am not saying they never show up – it happens and it can happen to you. In the event that it does, just remember to stay calm, TRUTHFULLY answer all of their questions (as you are still under oath) and don’t forget to breathe.
Remember, no matter how scary, stressful or frustrating this feels right now, you will likely be relieved when the meeting is over, and wonder why you were so worried in the first place.