Within a few days of your Chapter 7 Bankruptcy petition being filed with the court, a hearing will be scheduled. This hearing is referred to as a 341A Hearing or as a 341A Meeting of Creditors. They are one in the same no matter how they are referred to. It is the Bankruptcy code at 11 USC §341 which gives this hearing its life.
With a Chapter 7 filing, the hearing is usually scheduled to take place approximately one (1) month from the date of filing. The exact timing of the hearing date can vary based on the amount of filings in any given month within the respective bankruptcy viscinage. You will be given a date and time to appear at the hearing. In most instances you will be afforded at least three (3) weeks advance notice of the hearing.
Within approximately one (1) week of your bankruptcy petition filing you will receive your first notice in the mail. This notice will be generated by the Bankruptcy Court Clerk and will advise you of your hearing date and time. If your petition was filed with the aid of an attorney, your attorney will likely learn of the hearing specifics within two (2) days of filing the petition. Most attorneys will pass the hearing specifics along to the client despite the court notice that will be sent directly to the client.
At the 341A hearing you will need to present a photo identification along with proof of your social security number. The hearing will not take place in a courtroom and no judge will be present at the hearing. The hearing will be conducted by a Chapter 7 trustee panel member. Most of the three (3) New Jersey bankruptcy viscinages (Camden, Newark and Trenton) have several different panel trustees and the cases are distributed to each of them through the United States Trustee’s office. While formal attire is not required at the hearing, one should dress casual but appropriately for this court-like event.
Most Chapter 7 341A hearings will take less than ten (10) minutes to complete. You should expect to receive twenty (20) or so questions at the hearing. If represented by legal counsel, your attorney will be seated directly to your side. That being said, you should closely review your petition prior to the hearing and be both comfortable and familiar with its contents at the time of said hearing. You are the one under oath at the time of your hearing, not your attorney. Some panel trustees will not allow counsel to speak much, if at all, during the hearing for this very reason.
It may be helpful to meet your attorney outside of the hearing room prior to your testimony to go over any last minute questions or concerns. You may attend the hearing with anyone you wish. They can enter the hearing room and provide you with all the support your need. Any such guests, however, should not sit at the hearing table with you at the time of your hearing.
Many of the questions posed at the hearing can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no”. It is important to answer the question that is posed. For example if one were asked if they have a bank account and assuming they do have an open bank account, the answer would simply be “yes”. Don’t volunteer information at the hearing. The hearing itself is quick. You are not saving yourself any real time in talking about what accounts you have and how much are in the respective accounts. Let the questions come to you and answer the question that is posed to you.
A good attorney will go over all of this with you well before the hearing is even scheduled. At Reinheimer & Reinheimer, we actually do a “mock” hearing at your signing appointment to see how you do and what might need to be worked on. We also bring you to the hearing well before your scheduled time. This way, you have ample time to get comfortable in your new surroundings and have the ability to watch other hearings take place.