What Is a Bankruptcy Petition?

Learn about the official form you'll file to start a bankruptcy case.

By , Attorney (Tulane University School of Law)

When you file for bankruptcy, you must disclose all of your financial information on official bankruptcy forms. The bankruptcy petition is the first of many forms you'll need to complete (although the entire packet is often referred to as the "petition"). Your bankruptcy case starts when you file the petition with the clerk of the bankruptcy court.

The official bankruptcy forms can be completed and downloaded for free from the forms page of the U.S. Courts website.

The Four Bankruptcy Petition Types

  • Voluntary Petition for Individuals Filing for Bankruptcy. This form is for individuals who are filing a case on their behalf. Most filers use this form.
  • Voluntary Petition for Non-Individuals Filing for Bankruptcy. Business entities, such as corporations, partnerships. and municipalities, that want to file for bankruptcy (a voluntary case) will use this form.
  • Involuntary Petition Against an Individual. In some cases, a creditor, rather than the debtor (the person who owes debt) will force a debtor into bankruptcy. This is the involuntary bankruptcy form that a group of creditors would use to file a bankruptcy case against an individual.
  • Involuntary Petition Against a Non-Individual. This form gets used when a group of creditors forces a corporation, partnership, or another entity that is not an individual into bankruptcy.

What You'll Put In the Bankruptcy Petition

As with most forms, the filer will start by giving the bankruptcy court basic information about the debtor. For instance, a petition for an individual filing a voluntary case—the most common type—will disclose:

  • the debtor's name (including aliases, prior names used, and names under which the debtor does business)
  • the chapter filed
  • the debtor's address
  • any bankruptcy cases pending for a spouse or related business
  • the status of any eviction actions against an individual debtor
  • estimates of the amount of debt, number of creditors, and value of assets
  • whether the debtor has primarily consumer or business debt, and
  • whether the debtor has nonexempt assets (property the debtor can't keep in bankruptcy).

An individual debtor or an official representative of a non-individual filer must sign the petition under penalty of perjury, acknowledging the consequences of lying to the court, concealing property, or committing bankruptcy fraud. The penalty for perjury can be up to a fine of $250,000, or imprisonment for up to 20 years, or both.

Other Required Bankruptcy Forms

You'll need to file many other forms in the bankruptcy case. Although most are filed with the petition, you can file them up to 14 days afterward. They detail the debtor's income, assets, debts, expenses, and other aspects of the debtor's financial circumstances.

For more information, read How to Fill Out Bankruptcy Forms.

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