Many debtors, or potential debtors, wonder if they will have to attend a court hearing. There is at least one hearing that is mandatory for all debtors to attend, which is referred to as the 341 Meeting of Creditors.
Your creditors will also be noticed of this hearing date. They will have the opportunity to appear at that hearing as well, but they are not obligated to attend.
As soon as your case is filed, your case will be assigned to a trustee who will oversee your case.
Prior to the meeting of creditors you will need to send to the trustee documentation to help them review the case. They will have your petition, but they often will review through your recent bank statements, tax returns and pay advices to fully understand your case.
These documents are required under a federal rule to be served to the trustee and are often referred to, using the federal code section number 521. Sometimes the assigned trustee will have requests for other documents beyond the 521 documents so that they can better understand your case.
In about a week or two from the filing of the bankruptcy you will receive a notice for a court hearing, this hearing is called the 341 Meeting of Creditors. This hearing is generally held anywhere from 30 to 45 days from the date of filing.
Every debtor must attend a 341 Meeting of Creditors. This hearing is held at the federal court house in a special room. The hearings do not occur in a courtroom, in the Eastern District of California they are really more of a large conference room.
Other debtors will be in attendance doing the exact same thing that you are. There are generally 12 to 15 cases heard each hour. Creditors usually do not appear at this hearing, however, they are invited to it and it is their opportunity to ask you questions pertaining to your Bankruptcy. If you have hired an attorney, it is their responsibility to attend that hearing with you. Keep in mind, it is not a court hearing, so the federal rules of evidence do not apply. This means that you will not be hearing “objection!" and such as if it were a Perry Mason dramatic performance. It is a generally a very civil proceeding, that has several questions asked by the trustee that you likely already know the answer to. This is not a hearing for the creditors to berate you, it is merely a time for them to ask questions pertaining to your Bankruptcy. For example, they could ask if you have particular assets, or what your income is/was.
You will need to bring to the hearing your original driver’s license and original social security card. If you forget either of these items, your hearing will be continued to another day. You should dress conservatively as if you were going a meeting or an interview. Remember, you are going to the federal court and meeting with the trustee who is reviewing through your case. Also remember that you will have to pass through security, so be aware of what items you are carrying on you as there are officers and scanners at the entrance.
You should arrive with plenty of time to find parking and get to your hearing room prior to the time of your hearing. It is often recommended that you arrive at the hearing room about 10-15 minutes early so that you can meet with your attorney or at least get situated and familiar with your surroundings and what to expect. If you are not there on time, your hearing may be continued to the next hour or to another day.
The trustee may ask other case specific questions, but they will always ask a set of general questions to each set of debtors. The hearings are recorded, and answers to any questions must be audible by the recorder. Generally all the questions will be directed at you, the debtor, and you will have to answer them to the best of your knowledge. Never guess at an answer to a question you do not know. Generally the questions will all be ones that you know the answer to. The trustee will first have you promise to tell the truth, and will verify your name and address. They will then go on to ask you, at a minimum, the common questions in every case.
Common questions are:
- Did you read and sign the petition and schedules that were filed for you (everything we will have reviewed and signed in the signing meeting)
- Was everything true and accurate when you filed your petition and schedules
- Do you have any changes to make
- Were all of the documents you provided to your attorney true and accurate copies
- Did you include all of your assets no matter where they are located
- Did you include everyone you owe money to, even if you intend to pay them
- Does anyone owe you any money
- Do you have the right to an inheritance, lotto winnings, own season tickets or prepaid airline tickets
- Do you have the right to sue anyone
- Have you given anything to any family members or friends in the 1 year prior to filing
- Have you sold or transferred anything in the last 5 years
- Have you paid any one creditor $500 or more in the 90 days before filing
- Have you lived in California for the two years prior to filing
- Do you owe child support/alimony
- Have you been divorced in the last 5 years
- Are you holding any property for anyone else, or is anyone holding property for you
- Have you used any credit cards in the 90 days before filing
In many cases the trustee will conclude the hearing at the first meeting of creditors.
However, your hearing could be continued to another day for a variety of reasons. Some common reasons are failing to bring the proper identification, failing to appear, or failing to appear on time.
Sometimes the trustee continues the hearing for additional documentation, or because they have additional questions. Unless informed otherwise, be prepared to appear at the continued hearing. If the hearing was continued because the trustee needed to look at additional documentation, sometimes the continued hearings are cancelled because they were only continued to give the trustee time to see if he would have additional questions. If your hearing is continued, you should be prepared to appear.