If you are filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and want to represent yourself, you may want some help preparing your bankruptcy forms, to avoid all the typing and other basic organizational work that’s involved. For this level of assistance, a bankruptcy petition preparer (BPP) can help you.
BPPs are not lawyers, but they are familiar with the bankruptcy courts in your area. Their sole job is to complete your bankruptcy forms, using information that you provide about your debts, property, income, expenses, and financial transactions during the previous year or two. They can’t give you legal advice or answer questions about how bankruptcy will affect your debts or property.
A BPP doesn’t represent you. When you use a BPP, the court considers you a “self-represented debtor.” This means that you are responsible for gathering the necessary legal information and making the appropriate decisions in your case. You might get the information and advice you need from a bankruptcy lawyer or from a do-it-yourself law resource, such the Nolo books. But you cannot, legally, pass this responsibility on to a BPP.
BPPs charge between $100 and $200 for all the paperwork necessary to file your case—extra if you need more paperwork in the course of your case. BPP fees are capped by the individual bankruptcy courts.
BPP services are available throughout the country, but you’re still most likely to find one if you live on the West Coast. The best way to find a reputable BPP in your area is to get a recommendation from someone who has been satisfied with the work of a particular BPP.
BPPs sometimes advertise in classified sections of local newspapers or in the yellow pages. You may have to look hard to spot their ads, however, because federal bankruptcy law bars them from using the term “legal” or any similar term or from advertising in any category that contains the word “legal” or a similar term.
In California, your best bet is to find a legal document assistant (the official name given to independent paralegals in California) who provides BPP services. Most do not specify these services in their general advertisements (because offering bankruptcy under their legal title in California would violate the federal bankruptcy code’s prohibition against using the word “legal”), but many do offer bankruptcy services.
In Arizona, hunt for a legal document preparer. In other states, especially Florida, search for paralegals who directly serve the public (often called independent paralegals or legal technicians).