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Navigating Bankruptcy: Do You Need an Attorney?

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  • Jill
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  • August 1, 2018

Navigating Bankruptcy: Do You Need an Attorney?

Are you considering filing a Chapter 7 straight bankruptcy or a Chapter 13 payment plan case without the help of an attorney? If you are considering filing solo, you are probably low on cash and have been researching your options and the actual costs of filing for bankruptcy. You may be worried you can’t afford the costs of hiring a bankruptcy lawyer. However, before you decide to go it alone, there are various elements of bankruptcy filing which you should seriously consider. Filing is a decision to take seriously, and any mistakes can lead to a situation more costly than the one you are currently in. Let’s look at options available to those navigating bankruptcy proceedings and whether or not you may benefit from hiring an attorney.

Can You File Without an Attorney?

You may be wondering if it’s possible to represent yourself in a bankruptcy case. It certainly is possible to do so, and some evidence suggests that pro se filers (those who file one their own) are able to successfully navigate bankruptcy court—at least in Chapter 7 cases. However, there are many factors to weigh when considering filing alone which could affect your case. The complexity of every case varies, but successfully navigating court depends on a few key factors.


Actual debt may not be the issue, although they can present difficulties if a creditor challenges whether debts can be discharged or not. The most problematic issue depends on the type and value of one’s assets. Debtors in bankruptcy will never be left with nothing at the end of a case, with debtors allowed to keep a specific value of assets to start over with. These are deemed as exemptions—as they are exempt from both the court and creditors—and vary state by state. Exemptions vary between Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 filings. If you have non-exempt property in Chapter 7, those assets can be sold to pay your creditors. In Chapter 13, the value of those assets can be added to your payment plan, increasing overall payments. Understanding your property value and their respective exemptions is vital to success. Without an attorney, the complexities of exemptions can get the better of debtors quickly.

Increased Court Oversight

If you think you will not have any non-exempt assets, filing Chapter 7 can still be a difficult process. Case trustees will pay special attention to your case to make sure you have listed all property accurately with proper values. You will most likely be asked for additional documents like tax returns, car and house papers, or bank account statements. Creditors will look closely at all paperwork and you will be required to sign your papers under penalty of perjury. The consequences of misinformation can be severe.

When to Hire a Bankruptcy Lawyer

Quality bankruptcy representation can be costly, unless you qualify for low-cost services through a legal aid organization. However, before assuming an attorney is beyond your financial capability, you may find it’s more affordable than you think. Most bankruptcy lawyers offer a free initial consultation and can help you determine if you are eligible for assistance through a pro bono program or legal aid. They can also help you navigate various strategies for gathering money if you don’t qualify for aid, as well as file important paperwork.  Also, know that what you will pay to file bankruptcy often is far less than what you’ll pay in continuing to service your debt. A good bankruptcy lawyer can serve you time, stress, money and even help you rehabilitate your credit. For professional bankruptcy services, contact Bartifay Law in Murrysville, Pennsylvania.

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