The easy answer to this question is “yes” you can represent yourself and file your own bankruptcy case under the United States Bankruptcy Code. With the passage of the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 (more commonly referred to as “BAPCPA”), bankruptcy attorneys are now considered debt relief agencies for the purpose of certain disclosures under the code. The Bankruptcy Code, in Section 527, requires that bankruptcy attorneys inform potential clients “If you decide to seek bankruptcy relief, you can represent yourself, you can hire an attorney to represent you, or you can get help in some localities from a bankruptcy petition preparer who is not an attorney.” I believe some individuals are more than capable of representing themselves; however, bankruptcy law is complicated and numerous federal laws, rules and procedures that the average layperson may not understand (or even know where to look to find them) govern the process of filing a bankruptcy. To someone reviewing the forms required to file a bankruptcy, it may seem as easy as filling in the blanks. However, unless you understand the meaning of such terms like exemption, means testing, priority creditor, secured creditor, reaffirmation agreement and automatic stay (to name just a small few), the result could possibly be loss of assets or income that would have been avoided had an attorney been involved. That is not to say an attorney can do things that a pro se debtor (meaning someone representing him or herself) cannot do within a bankruptcy case. For example, a debtor may be entitled to claim state or federal exemptions; however, claiming property as exempt is an affirmative action that a debtor must assert within his or her bankruptcy schedules. If someone representing him or herself in a bankruptcy case missed that information, it could have devastating results.
With all of the above said, if you do decide to represent yourself in a bankruptcy action, there are a few websites you may find helpful in beginning your research – – yes, I said beginning because if it was me I would invest as much time researching how to represent myself in a bankruptcy case as I did in accumulating the debt.
1. Cornell University Law School has Title 11 of the United States Code on its website – this is the section that deals with bankruptcy law.
2. The United States Trustee Program website has general information about bankruptcy, bankruptcy forms, Credit Counseling, Debtor Education and Means Testing. The United States Trustee’s office is the federal agency designated to oversee bankruptcy cases filed in the United States.
3. The United States Courts’ website provides “Bankruptcy Basics” which includes copies of bankruptcy forms and information about bankruptcy.
Because I am a paralegal and not an attorney, the information contained in this article is not legal advice and should not be a substitute for the advice of competent legal counsel or a financial expert. Therefore, a disclaimer: Nothing in the above article is to be construed as neither legal advice nor legal opinion. The information and opinions expressed herein are not intended as legal advice and should not be relied upon by any person seeking legal advice. The author is not an attorney and expressly states that she is not providing a legal service nor any legal advice. The article is for information purposes only and anyone relying on this information does so at his or her own risk.
United States Bankruptcy Code
Cornell University Law School
United States Trustee Program
Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts