My aim is to prepare a mistake-free bankruptcy petition. As a virtual bankruptcy paralegal, I spend hours fine tuning the petition and schedules … asking questions of the attorney and clarifying details with the client.I don’t believe a “perfect” petition is possible (we’re all human after all), but I do have my routine topics that I always double-check with the client:
- Social Security Number — Nothing will irk me more than having to amend the SSN. How can the client sign the Statement of Social Security Number and not proofread the SSN? I might have misread their handwriting, I might have a typo, or they might have entered it incorrectly into Rapid Import. I have had married clients both sign the Statement and neither one checked the social security numbers (I know this because I later had to prepare the amendment).
- Complete list of creditors — There are quite a few ways to gather and enter creditors into the bankruptcy software: import a credit report; use the free annual credit report; clients list creditors on intake questionnaire; and/or copies of statements and invoices. I have found that a combination of these methods is necessary because not all creditors will be on credit reports, not all creditors send statements, and clients never list every creditor (they have certain credit cards they want to ‘keep’ or they intend to pay back Aunt Martha ‘outside’ of the BK proceedings).
- Overall completeness (and the possible typo) — Most people do not maintain good financial records. I have discovered that many people throw away their paystubs when they deposit the check in the bank. I’ve been surprised by how many people have to go back to tax preparers to request copies of the tax returns because they didn’t keep a copy (or can’t find it). Then, during the stress of preparing for bankruptcy, they have to gather and provide an incredible amount of their financial information and history. I know that it’s a rare person who actually remembers everything asked for in the bankruptcy forms.
Because I work virtually, I am not present at the document signing appointment when the attorney will ask the client to review the documents and make sure the information is accurate and complete. It is a time-saver for my attorneys if I cover these content specific topics with the client prior the signing appointment. So I speak with the client by phone about what they should be looking for as they review the documents and I repeat it in the email message to which a draft of the petition is attached.
What do I ask them to do specifically? I ask them to please double-check their social security numbers. I ask this very emphatically.
I will tell them that there are several pages in the draft that will list creditors and ask the client to please make sure every creditor they can think of is listed. On this topic I’ll also interject that this means family, friends, neighbors, and every credit card. You’d be surprised how, even at this stage of the petition preparation, a client will say that they mentioned to the attorney that they were going to keep certain credit cards and the attorney said it was okay. (Note to self: alert the attorney that the client likely misunderstood a conversation.)
Finally, I suggest that the client(s) get a cup of coffee and read through every page of the draft looking for typos and checking for anything that needs to be added, deleted, or corrected. Most clients have never seen bankruptcy forms before and this will be their opportunity to (hopefully) read every word at their own pace. (This is where the memory seems to kick in — it’s amazing what clients remember when they read the actual forms.) I ask the client to send me any corrections, but I also let them know that I cannot answer legal questions that might come up and suggest they make a list of these questions to ask the attorney at their signing appointment.
At the signing appointment the attorney will ask again if the documents are complete and accurate and the client should be able answer pretty quickly because they will have already read the docs and worked through clerical corrections with me. The attorney’s time can be better spent on answering the legal questions about the case and, if the client prepared a list of questions, the client will know that all their questions were answered. Overall, the attorney should spend less time in this appointment because of the clerical review I have already completed with the client. (Of course, some corrections may result from the legal questions and issues raised at the signing appointment.)
Mistakes are bound to happen; it’s the avoidable or careless ones that I work hard to prevent. On the Bankruptcy Law Network, Attorney Däna Wilkinson recently posted: When Preparing for Bankruptcy, You Can’t Be Too Careful. It’s an interesting observation of how an avoidable mistake incurred the ire of the trustee. Fortunately, none of my attorneys have ever told me that they took a tongue-lashing from a bankruptcy trustee due to mistakes in our paperwork. Whew.