File Bankrupt without a Lawyer
Pro Se Debtor
Bankruptcy law can be complicated and debtors should, if possible, obtain information/advice from an attorney or a legal aid service experienced in bankruptcy law. If you are representing yourself without the benefit of an attorney, you are known as a “pro se” debtor. The information contained in this page is not intended to advise you of your legal rights or responsibilities. It merely outlines certain requirements for filing documents with the court.
In addition, the Court Clerk’s Office staff is prohibited from assisting with the preparation of the voluntary petition, schedules or other documents. Deputy clerks cannot provide legal advice. All parties must comply with the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure, the United States Bankruptcy Code, the Middle District of Florida’s Bankruptcy Local Rules, Administrative Procedures and General Orders. Failure to do so could result in the dismissal of your case.
The Bankruptcy Judges Advisory Group of the Administrative Offices of the United States Courts, Bankruptcy Judges Advisory Group has developed a new web page for individuals who are thinking of filing a bankruptcy petition without an attorney. The page also provides links and videos to resources for Bankruptcy Basics, Credit Counseling, Legal Services, Foreclosures, and Petition Preparers.
This page is available at: http://www.uscourts.gov/bankruptcycourts/prose.html
Corporations and partnerships must have an attorney to file a bankruptcy case. Individuals, however, may represent themselves to file bankrupt. While individuals can file a bankruptcy case without an attorney or “pro se,” it is extremely difficult to do it successfully.
It is very important that a bankruptcy case be filed and handled correctly. The rules are very technical, and a misstep may affect a debtor’s rights. For example, a debtor whose case is dismissed for failure to file a required document, such as a credit counseling certificate, may lose the right to file another case or lose protections in a later case, including the benefit of the automatic stay. Bankruptcy has long-term financial and legal consequences.
Debtors must list all property and debts in their bankruptcy schedules. If a debt is not listed, it is possible the debt will not be discharged. (Lists of the documents [including schedules] that debtors must file are set out on Form B200, one of the Director’s Procedural Forms.) The judge can also deny the discharge of all debts if a debtor does something dishonest in connection with the bankruptcy case, such as destroying or hiding property, falsifying records, or lying. Individual bankruptcy cases are randomly audited to determine the accuracy, truthfulness, and completeness of the information that the debtor is required to provide. Please be aware that bankruptcy fraud is a crime.
Pro se litigants, whether debtor or creditor, are expected to follow the rules that govern procedures in the federal courts. Pro se litigants should be familiar with the United States of America Bankruptcy Code, the US Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure, and the local rules of the court in which the case is filed. Local rules, along with other useful information, are usually posted on the court’s web site and are available at the local court’s intake counter.
Individual debtors are generally required to obtain credit counseling from an approved provider within 180 days before filing a case, and to file a statement of compliance and a certificate of credit counseling furnished by the provider. Failure to do so may result in dismissal of the case
General warning about filing without a bankruptcy attorney.
Each Debtor filing an individual bankruptcy has a right to represent him or herself (Pro Se Debtor); however, the use of a bankruptcy attorney is recommended. Ignorance of the law may cost an individual far more than an attorney’s fee. By law, a corporation is required to have a bankruptcy attorney. Note: Individuals who choose to represent themselves will not be able to obtain legal advice from court personnel or from the trustee appointed to their case.
Filing bankrupt may be done without an attorney. However, it is highly recommended that you retain the services of an attorney to guide you through this complex process. The bankruptcy laws are very technical and you are required to complete and sign, under penalty of perjury, various official forms. Your failure to complete these forms truthfully and timely may result in the dismissal of your case and may adversely affect any future bankruptcy filing.
Only a licensed bankruptcy attorney can give you legal advice. Many typing and transcribing companies advertise as Bankruptcy Petition Preparers and for a fee they will complete your bankruptcy forms with information you provide. Bankruptcy Petition Preparers are not attorneys and may not give legal advice. Their failure to timely and accurately complete your official forms may result in the dismissal of your case and may adversely affect any future bankruptcy filing.
If you filed for bankruptcy in the past, the manner in which that case was disposed of may further complicate a new bankruptcy case. You may not be eligible to receive the protection of the automatic stay, the automatic stay may be limited or you may not be eligible to receive a discharge of debts. These are issues that warrant the advice of competent legal counsel.
Bankruptcy for a debtor has long-term financial and legal consequences. This court strongly encourages you to obtain the assistance of an attorney.
Instructional Course in Personal Financial Management
If you have not completed this counseling before you file your petition and you do not meet the requirements for an extension to complete the counseling after filing, your case will be dismissed and you will not receive a discharge of your debts. In some cases, you may not be allowed to file another case for 180 days. Even, if you file another case within one year after your first case was dismissed; protection under the Bankruptcy Code from your creditors may be limited to thirty (30) days after filing the new case.
Under the bankruptcy laws, the Court can only allow you to complete the course after filing if you meet all of the following conditions. [See 11 USC § 109(h)(3)]
1) You must have tried to get credit counseling from an approved agency within at least a five (5) day period before filing and the agency couldn’t provide it: AND
2) There are exigent (emergency) circumstances that make it necessary for you to file your case immediately. (Important: The Court will determine what qualifies as an emergency circumstance); AND
3) You must file a certification stating the facts regarding the conditions listed above in (1) and (2) with your petition.
Please be advised – most debtors will not be able to meet these conditions because credit counseling is readily available in this Florida Court District. The decision to file your petition is up to you, but if you file without taking the course, you are risking dismissal of your Florida bankruptcy case. The Clerk cannot provide legal advice or predict in advance how a judge will decide your request for an extension to complete this requirement.
To complete this requirement before filing, obtain from the Clerk’s Office a list of United States Trustee approved pre-bankruptcy credit counseling agencies or go to their website listed below: http://www.justice.gov/ust/eo/bapcpa/ccde/de_approved.htm
Official bankruptcy forms must be used to file and take action in bankruptcy cases. Procedural Forms also may be necessary for use during the course of some bankruptcy proceedings. Required forms for filing under a particular chapter, such as chapter 7 or 13, are listed in Procedural Form B 200, To access the B-200 Bankruptcy Procedure Form click this link: B-200 Bankruptcy Procedure Form