Most people never see the inside of a courtroom or appear in front of a judge when filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Instead, you'll attend one meeting—the 341 meeting of creditors—conducted by the Chapter 7 trustee appointed to manage your case. At the meeting, you'll provide proof of identification and answer questions about your bankruptcy filing. Your participation will likely last less than ten minutes.
The court will set the meeting of creditors between 21 and 40 days after your bankruptcy filing date. It will take place in a meeting room at a federal building or at an offsite location. Other bankruptcy filers will appear at the same meeting time, so you'll want to check the docket to see where your case falls on the schedule.
The bankruptcy trustee is responsible for more than conducting the 341 meeting of creditors. For instance, the trustee must:
(Learn what happens when the bankruptcy trustee suspects fraud.)
To prepare for the meeting of creditors, the trustee will review your bankruptcy paperwork and the supporting documents you're responsible for providing five business days before the meeting.
Standard documents that must be produced (called 521 documents) include bank statements, paycheck stubs, and tax returns. You'll also provide things required by the particular trustee. These items could include:
Most trustees will accept the documents by email; however, some will require you to upload them to a secure website or drop them in the mail.
You must bring photo identification and proof of your Social Security number with you. Otherwise, the trustee will likely do one of the following things:
Also, bring any documents you don't submit to the trustee in advance. Because the trustee will need time to review the new records, expect the 341 hearing to be continued; however, many trustees will cancel the appearance if everything appears in order.
The trustee will call roll to ensure everyone is there and explain the process. You'll likely be instructed to do the following:
When the Chapter 7 trustee calls your matter, you'll do the following: present your identification documents, sit at a table with your attorney, and take an oath to answer questions truthfully. Then the trustee will ask you a series of standard questions, such as whether:
It's common for the trustee to ask questions particular to your case, as well—and it's likely that your attorney will be able to predict the areas of inquiry in advance.
When the trustee finishes, creditors will be allowed to ask questions about your finances and property. Once the questioning is over, the trustee will conclude the meeting. If, however, investigation or more documents are needed, the trustee will continue the meeting to another date.
If you don't attend your meeting of creditors at its scheduled time, the court will dismiss your bankruptcy case. If you can't make your meeting of creditors, notify the trustee immediately. Whether your hearing will be rescheduled will likely depend on your reason for missing it. For instance, while work and travel commitments usually aren't compelling, a trustee will probably continue a case for one of the following reasons:
The trustee might allow you to attend telephonically, too.
If the court dismisses your case, you can usually refile immediately. However, you lose the automatic stay when you refile for bankruptcy within one year of your dismissal. In such a case, the automatic stay in the new matter will only last 30 days and, to keep its protection, you'll need to file a motion to extend it before it expires.