Every party that files bankruptcy must attend a meeting of creditors. This meeting, which is required by Section 341 of the Bankruptcy Code, is also known as a “341 meeting.”
The meeting of creditors is scheduled by the clerk of the bankruptcy court shortly after a bankruptcy case is filed, together with other important dates, deadlines and events.
The clerk will send notice of the time and place of the meeting to all parties that are listed in the bankruptcy filing. The meeting of creditors is generally based on the county in which the debtor resides.
The Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Washington publishes a list of locations for 341 meetings to be held within the district. For parties residing in Spokane County, Washington, the meeting will be held at the Office of the United States Trustee in the Thomas Foley U.S. Courthouse, 920 W. Riverside, Room 561 N., Spokane, Washington 99201.
The 341 meeting is presided over by the Bankruptcy Trustee that was appointed in the case. The meeting is an opportunity for the Chapter 7 Trustee and creditors to question a debtor under oath regarding their assets, liabilities, and other matters that pertain to their bankruptcy case.
A meeting of creditors is not convened for creditors to pressure individuals that filed bankruptcy, or embarrass them.
Meetings are held in a meeting room, not in a courtroom. When the case is called, the Bankruptcy Trustee will place the debtor under oath, and ask to see a photo ID and documentation of the debtor’s social security number.
The Bankruptcy Trustee will then ask a series of questions to confirm the accuracy of the documents filed with the court, and determine whether there are any assets that are not protected through exemption, or whether there are issues relevant to the administration of the estate.
For a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 meeting of creditors, there will be around ten cases scheduled over an hour-long calendar. In a typical no-asset consumer bankruptcy, the meeting of creditors is the debtor’s first and last contact with the Bankruptcy Court.
As with all matters affecting a bankruptcy case, the meeting of creditors is important to bankruptcy attorneys and their clients, and should be approached with care.
Here are the top ten things to know about the meeting of creditors:
1. The Meeting Won’t Start Without You.
The meeting of creditors is the only mandatory appearance that most parties must make after filing bankruptcy. The meeting must be attended when scheduled, and both spouses must appear if the bankruptcy is a joint case.
There will be several weeks of advance notice, so make arrangements to attend, and plan to be there with your bankruptcy attorney a few minutes early. At the meeting room, there will be an information sheet from the trustee that you will need to read, so be prepared to confirm that you’ve reviewed that information.
2. It Isn’t Just About You.
The time set for the meeting of creditors will be used for a number of individual meetings of creditors, and it is not unusual for ten or twelve meetings to be scheduled for the same time. Cases are called one by one, and the parties and their bankruptcy lawyer will sit at a table with the bankruptcy trustee.
It is a public meeting, with maybe twenty-five or thirty debtors and attorneys in attendance. Everyone is there for the same reason, and everyone shares the same concerns and apprehension, but the meetings are conducted quickly, and with respect and courtesy.
3. But It Is About You.
Every bankruptcy attorney and trustee has their stories about mistaken identities, and the issues that follow. Although the bankruptcy system is built on trust, it is also built on verification, and the trustee is required to verify your identity.
Bring photo identification, and a document showing your social security number – such as your social security card, or a pay stub.
4. You Are Unlikely To Meet With Your Creditors.
All parties listed on the bankruptcy schedules will receive notice of the meeting of creditors. If any creditors do attend, it is typically out of curiosity, to ask whether their debt will be reaffirmed, or to ask about the location and condition of their collateral.
Most meetings of creditors are not attended by any creditors. As the purpose of the meeting of creditors is largely informational, the lack of participation by a creditor does not provide any advantage or disadvantage to either party.
5. You Will Definitely Not Meet With Your Judge.
The bankruptcy law prohibits the bankruptcy judge from attending the meeting of creditors. Although the meeting of creditors is serious business, it is not a hearing, and no legally binding decisions can be made for you, or against you.
Nevertheless, the meetings are recorded. Be careful and thoughtful with your answers, and don’t guess as to facts you don’t know.
6. You Will Definitely Meet With Your Trustee.
The bankruptcy trustee will always preside over the meeting of creditors. The trustee will have reviewed your bankruptcy schedules prior to the meeting to identify any possible assets that are beyond your ability to protect, or any payments that were made before filing that the trustee may be able to recover.
Bankruptcy Trustees make very little money in the usual case, so they learn how to quickly separate the cases where there are no assets from the cases where there may be assets.
7. Tell The Truth.
The Trustee and any creditor or other party in interest is entitled to ask questions regarding your assets and liabilities, as well as any questions that are relevant to the administration of the bankruptcy case, or your right to a discharge.
Be prepared to raise your right hand, be placed under oath, and to tell the truth with an honest and open heart. The only wrong answer to a question from the trustee or a creditor would be an untruthful answer.
8. The Trustee Will Have Required Questions.
The trustee will have questions that the trustee is required to ask, including:
· Did you review your bankruptcy schedules prior to signing?
· Are your bankruptcy schedules true and accurate?
· Do you have any changes to your schedules?
· Did you list all of your assets?
· Did you list all of your debts?
9. The Trustee Will Have Discretionary Questions.
The trustee will have questions that the trustee is entitled to ask, and are usually intended to determine whether you might have any nonexempt assets that could be claimed by the trustee, or whether there were payments to creditors or transfers of property made before the bankruptcy filing that might be recovered by the trustee. The trustee may, for example, ask:
· How did you value your home?
· How did you value your car?
· Do you have any claims against anyone?
· Are you expecting an inheritance?
· Have you transferred any assets?
10. When It’s Over, It’s Over.
The trustee will adjourn the meeting of creditors when all questions have been asked and answered, which often takes less than five minutes.
For most parties that file bankruptcy, there are no Court hearings with a judge, and the meeting of creditors is the only face-to-face interaction with the trustee or the court system. I
n the majority of cases, the bankruptcy proceeding will automatically proceed to a discharge of debt after the meeting is adjourned.
It is entirely natural to focus some nervous energy on the meeting of creditors, but most people say, “that wasn’t so bad” when the meeting is over.
For most people, the conclusion of the meeting of creditors is the time when their relief from debt seems real, and they experience the opportunity of their fresh start, and start to move forward with a second chance.
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