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Chapter 7 Process - From Start to Finish!

The following is a chronological summary of the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process, the events which occur in a Chapter 7 case, and the time periods at which these events occur.

Office Interview with Attorney

The first step for most debtors is to consult an attorney. The debtor should meet with an attorney for between 30 to 60 minutes on the first visit. The initial meeting should normally include a discussion of whether a bankruptcy filing is appropriate, the form of bankruptcy relief which is proper (normally either Chapter 7, 11 or 13), alternatives to bankruptcy, the bankruptcy process, and credit considerations of a bankruptcy filing.

The initial meeting should include a personal consultation with a licensed attorney. Do not hire a law firm that does not permit you to meet with an attorney on the first visit. Paralegals are indispensable to the law practice of most consumer bankruptcy attorneys. Paralegals can also be very helpful in screening potential clients and relating basic legal information. However, paralegals are not licensed to practice law nor permitted to give individual legal advice. Paralegals, even very good ones, are never an acceptable substitute for a qualified, licensed attorney.

Bankruptcy Paperwork

If the debtor decides to proceed with the filing of a bankruptcy case, she will be required to file several documents with the court. These documents contain disclosures of essentially everything about the debtor from a financial standpoint for several years before the case is filed. These documents are called the bankruptcy "schedules" and "statement of financial affairs," and contain the following information:


The bankruptcy petition is a document filed with the bankruptcy court to begin a bankruptcy case. The petition contains basic identifying information about the debtor, including her name, address, telephone number, social security number, and the chapter under which bankruptcy relief is sought.

Property List

The property list must disclose all property the debtor owns on the date the case is filed, and give an estimated value for each item. The property list must be itemized, showing each item, and an estimated market value for each item. See "3. Bankruptcy Estate" for a discussion of the property which comprises the bankruptcy estate and must be disclosed on the property list.

Creditor List

The creditor list must disclose the names, addresses and account numbers of all creditors. There are 3 separate creditor lists which categorize the creditors according to whether the debt is a secured, priority or general unsecured debt. More than 50 percent of all debtors intend to pay one or more of their unsecured debts, even after their bankruptcy has been completed. Many debtors believe that they will be able to keep a credit card and/or rehabilitate their credit report if they omit one or more credit cards from the creditor list. Not only is this is very poor strategy from a financial standpoint, it violates the bankruptcy laws. The debtor is legally required to disclose and list all creditors, regardless of whether she debtor intends to continue paying the debt


The debtor must list and disclose her current monthly income and expenses, and disclose any anticipated changes in income of more than 10 percent within one year after the case is filed.

Statement of Financial Affairs

The statement of financial affairs is a list of 25 questions inquiring about the debtor’s financial transactions over the past several years. Almost all significant financial transactions over the past several years must be disclosed on the statement of financial affairs.

Filing Petition and Schedules

The filing of the bankruptcy petition is the event which commences a bankruptcy case. When the petition is filed, the court clerk will assign a case number, judge and panel trustee. In most Chapter 7 cases, the bankruptcy petition will be filed at the same time as the other required paperwork (the bankruptcy schedules and statement of financial affairs). However, the debtor may elect to file only the bankruptcy petition, and file the other documents later. This is normally done if the filing needs to be done quickly to prevent an impending foreclosure or repossession, or the collection of a court judgment. If the debtor elects not to file the schedules and statement of financial affairs along with the petition, these documents must be filed within 15 days after the bankruptcy petition is filed. The court will dismiss the case if these documents are not promptly filed.

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Trustee & Court Information


Immediately upon the filing of the bankruptcy petition, a bankruptcy trustee will be randomly assigned from a pool of "panel trustees." Panel trustees are individuals that have been pre-screened and hired to act as Chapter 7 trustees by the U.S. Trustee of the district in which they serve. The panel trustee will receive a copy of all bankruptcy paperwork after it is filed.

Role of the Trustee

The basic purpose of the panel trustee is to serve as an investigator for the court. In 99 percent of all Chapter 7 cases, the debtor will never see a bankruptcy judge. The debtor will appear before a judge only if a serious question is raised about the case. In virtually all Chapter 7 cases, the trustee (or the trustee’s staff) is the only person that will review the case. The trustee has two basic investigatory roles:

(a) Asset Investigation. The trustee’s main role is to determine whether the debtor has any non-exempt assets which the trustee is entitled to seize from the debtor. If the debtor has non-exempt assets, the trustee may seize and sell the assets, and distribute the proceeds to creditors on a pro rata basis.

(b) Income / Expense Investigation. A second important role of the trustee is to determine if the debtor is abusing the bankruptcy process. A Chapter 7 case involving mostly consumer debts will be considered abusive if the debtor has sufficient income to pay a significant portion of the unsecured debt.

Creditor’s Meeting

In every Chapter 7 bankruptcy case, the debtor is required to make one appearance at a "creditor’s meeting." The creditor’s meeting for any given case will be grouped with approximately 30 other similar cases. The group of cases, commonly referred to as a "trustee panel" of cases, are all given to a single trustee.


The creditor’s meeting for cases filed in St. Charles, Lincoln and Warren counties are currently held at the Wentzville Criminal Justice Center in Wentzville, Missouri, or the U.S. Federal Courthouse in downtown St. Louis.

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