“What happens at my 341 hearing or the meeting of creditors hearing?”
“What happens at my 341 hearing or the meeting of creditors hearing?”
I’ll address this question of what happens at my 341 hearing — which is a very natural question to ask — from the standpoint of filing a chapter 7 bankruptcy in Birmingham.
It can be a bit different in different courthouses but the basic gist of what we have below will apply.
We’ll go through this question and the questions that naturally follow to give you a good sense of what will happen at your 341 hearing.
The “341” comes from a code section that applies here and this is how the court will refer to the hearing so we will use this term also.
Normally this is your only meeting or court appearance
This is the first, and normally the only, meeting at the courthouse that you will have when you file a chapter seven case.
It is normally scheduled about 30 days or so from when you file your bankruptcy petition or bankruptcy case.
“Where do I go to appear at the hearing?”
You’ll be sent a notice that lists the date and time of the 341 hearing and that the location is at the Federal Bankruptcy Courthouse which is located at:
Robert S. Vance Federal Building
1800 5th Avenue North
Birmingham, Alabama 35203.
This building is a white building and you enter it from the 5th Avenue North side.
You go through a metal detector and go down the entire length of the building until you see a sign for “341 Hearings” or “341 Meetings” which will direct you to go downstairs.
You can go down the elevator one floor or go down the stairs to the “basement” level. You’ll basically walk right into the room where the 341 hearings are held.
First, you go into a room with a few tables and chairs where lawyers and clients can sit.
You then see the open door to the main room which has about 100 chairs and then a podium with a microphone and in front of that is where the Bankruptcy Trustee sits.
(In Birmingham you will have either Andre’ M. Toffel, James G. Henderson, or Thomas E. Reynolds.)
There will not normally be a bankruptcy judge — instead the Trustee will conduct the hearing/meeting.
“What if I can’t make it that day because I’m out of town, working and can’t get off, etc.?”
Short answer is you need to be there.
Longer answer is if you can’t be there then let your lawyer know immediately that you cannot be there so your lawyer can talk to the Trustee and reschedule the hearing.
“OK, what’s the purpose of the hearing or meeting?”
The Trustee will say a few words about why you are at the meeting — the purpose is to let the Trustee know about
- Any other property that you have (or that you have sold recently) that has not been listed
- Do you have any lawsuits you have filed or will file
- Are you expecting any type of inheritance or life insurance payments; and
- To ask you any questions about your bankruptcy petition (the document filed to start the case) that the Trustee has.
Your creditors will also have an opportunity to show up and to ask you questions.
This is not normally done but the Trustee will give your creditors, who were notified of this meeting (remember it’s called a “Meeting of Creditors”), a chance to ask you questions.
“How long should I plan on being at the courthouse?”
The Trustees are very good at keeping the hearings moving so if you have, for example, a 10:30 am hearing, you normally will be done by 11 am.
The actual time you are questioned is usually just a few minutes.
“Should I get there right on time or early?”
I strongly suggest you get there early. At least 30 minutes early.
Here are a few reasons why:
- You never know how traffic will be and you don’t want to be late
- You don’t want to be stressed about running late — instead get there early so you can be relaxed
- When you get there early you can find your lawyer (we normally walk over with our clients but most lawyers will meet you there)
- You can get a sense of how the Trustee is conducting the meeting so it won’t be a surprise to you
- If you are nervous (see below) then seeing how professionally the Trustee conducts the meeting and how it is not a high pressure event will help you to feel comfortable that you can go to the microphone and tell the truth.
Here’s bottom line — you want to get a discharge of your debts.
The major hurdle to overcome after you file your bankruptcy petition is the 341 hearing so be on time and get it done.
It will be a huge relief to you and weight off of your shoulders to have it behind you.
“How should I dress?”
You should dress nicely. You don’t have to dress in a fancy way but look nice.
- We judge people by appearances (we can argue about whether this is right or wrong but it is a fact);
- If you come in looking sloppy or like you just got out of bed, this may cause some doubt as to your credibility;
- Looking nice shows respect for the court and the Trustee the same way as dressing nice for a funeral or wedding shows respect to the people you are there to see; and
- It just makes sense to not do anything to hurt yourself or your credibility so put on some of your nice clothes, don’t wear a hat, and show respect to the court and Trustee.
“Is this like court where I am sworn in?”
Yes it is — the Trustee will normally have everyone who has a case coming up — say the 10:30 cases — stand up and raise your right hand.
The Trustee will “swear you in” by asking that you swear or affirm to tell the truth and then say out loud that you do agree to tell the truth.
Make sure you do tell the truth.
More on this to follow.
“Do I have to talk at the hearing?”
Yes — the point of the hearing is for the Trustee and creditors (rare but possible) to ask you questions so you will need to talk.
“How do I answer questions?”
Answer the questions truthfully.
Here is a simple way to do this:
- Make sure you hear the question the Trustee or creditor asks you — you can’t tell the truth on something you don’t hear;
- Make sure you understand the question — again if you don’t understand, how can you answer truthfully?;
- Think about the truthful answer — it is not a race to see how quickly you can answer — instead the Trustee (or creditor) wants you to make sure you are answering correctly; and
- Only answer the question asked. There are normally a good number of cases and if the Trustee or creditor wants to know the answer to something, they will ask you. It does not help them for you to ramble on and answer questions that have not even been asked.
A few final points.
- Answer out loud with a “yes” or “no” as otherwise it is unclear what you are saying;
- Speak into the microphone;
- Look at the Trustee when you are answering a question so your voice will project to the Trustee who is in charge of the hearing/meeting; and
- Speak as plainly as possible as sometimes there is some background noise and you want to be clearly understood.
“Will my lawyer be there with me?”
Yes your lawyer should be there with you. Occasionally if your lawyer is not there (out of town, in another court, etc) there may be another lawyer there to be with you but this should be explained to you before the hearing.
Sometimes lawyers will not know who there clients are because they never met with them or meet with so many they cannot remember what their clients look like.
You can decide if this is the experience you want or if you want your lawyer to know you.
“Is it natural to feel nervous about what will happen in the hearing?”
Yes — most of us feel nervous when we go into a new experience.
Most of our clients have never been in court and so the thought of going to court causes some anxiety.
Don’t fight it — this simply means you care about what is going to happen.
This is a good thing.
Now that you know you care, and knowing that you will tell the truth, now you just need to know what to expect and to know your lawyer is going to be there with you.
Having made it this far in this incredibly long article you should have a good sense of what will happen so by this point your nerves will start to feel better.
And then when you show up on time — early! — and see how the process goes, you will feel even better.
One suggestion is to write down why you feel nervous and share that with your lawyer so your lawyer can help you go through any concerns you have.
That is, after all, in part why you hired the lawyer you did — because you feel confident in your lawyer and comfortable with the advice given to you.
The 341 hearing — or meeting of creditors — should go very smoothly for you.
Prepare for it, know you will tell the truth, and know that your lawyer will be with you and you will do great!
If you happen to be reading this and have not hired a lawyer to counsel you on bankruptcy (and the many alternatives), and if you live in Alabama, feel free to call us at 205-879-2447 or contact us through our website and we will be happy to talk with you to see how we can help you and if our firm and our way of treating our clients is the type of experience that you want to have.