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Filing for Bankruptcy Without an Attorney: A Risky Proposition

If you’re thinking about filing for bankruptcy, you may be tempted to try and file the petition on your own (known in the legal world as filing “pro se”). You might even think that, under the circumstances, it would be financially irresponsible to hire an attorney to handle your petition. It may appear to be a relatively simple process; complete some forms detailing the state of your finances, which you’d understand better than anyone, and turn them over to the court. However, errors in these documents can lead the court to reject your petition or issue stiff penalties for failing to include all accounts and creditors.

Completion of the initial bankruptcy petition requires some understanding of the rules and laws of bankruptcy court, as well as long-term financial implications of including or excluding various assets. It is critically important that you assign an accurate value to your assets, as well. Recently, bankruptcy courts have changed their standards to be less permissive of shortcomings in petitions, making it more important than ever to get it right the first time around. Bankruptcy judges themselves acknowledge the difficulty in understanding and applying the rules of bankruptcy without legal experience in the field. Judge Gregory Kishel, chief of the Minnesota Bankruptcy Circuit court, wrote in one opinion, “The number of abstruse pre- and post-filing issues is now considerable. They are both functional in nature… and legal… All of this is best, most safely, and most predictably handled through representation by a licensed attorney.”

While determining how you wished to go about filing for bankruptcy, you may have considered hiring a bankruptcy petition preparer as a cheaper alternative to hiring an attorney. However, these companies are extremely limited in what services they can provide, while still coming at a substantial cost. Petition preparers cannot offer any legal advice, such as whether you should file for bankruptcy under Chapter 7 or 13, nor can they suggest how to value assets. Some bankruptcy circuits explicitly caution against hiring such companies, and have created a blacklist of petition preparers for that circuit.

Hiring an attorney will serve as an investment in your future financial health. Initially, an attorney can help you determine whether bankruptcy is truly your best option, or whether your case might be better-served with other debt management approaches. A bankruptcy attorney can provide the court with reliable asset valuations, and can help you include or exclude assets from the bankruptcy according to your best interests. An attorney will also defend you against charges of fraud or claims that certain debts are not dischargeable through bankruptcy, should such claims arise.

If you are looking for knowledgeable, seasoned legal help with your Mississippi bankruptcy, contact the attorneys at the Gardner Law Firm, with offices conveniently located in Biloxi at 228-436-6555, Pascagoula at 228-762-6555, or Hattiesburg at 601-582-4300.

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