Getting help with forms and filing
Instructions are harder to come by than they used to be. The official U.S. Court website offers no instructions with these forms, other except a link to the congressional committee reports that were written at the time the forms were created. These are not step-by-step instructions, but rather a broad description of the purpose of each form.
Books that provide instructions for filling in official forms
The legal publisher Nolo publishes a comprehensive bankruptcy form instruction book (which I co-author). This book takes you through each form, line by line, explains what the terminology means, and provides examples. It also alerts you to situations that may require more help.
There are several software products designed for lawyers that will prepare full sets of bankruptcy forms, but these programs assume you already know bankruptcy law and are designed for filing multiple bankruptcies. In short, they're not appropriate for first-time bankruptcy filers.
There are also a few packages purportedly offered for consumers. Proceed with caution. Some of these packages are little more than PDF versions of the forms, which are are available free from the courts themselves.
If you are not a lawyer, the only value of these products would depend on the quality of the instructions they provide. You'll need instructions on how to complete each form, as well as a good understanding of how each form fits into the larger process of filing for bankruptcy.
Bankruptcy Petition Preparers (BPP)
Bankruptcy Petition Preparers (BPPs) are nonlawyers who offer help in filling in the forms. The latest revision of the bankruptcy laws formally recognized these services as legitimate, but also imposed severe restrictions on what they can charge and scope of the services they can perform.
What BPPs Can't Do
Lawyers have jealously guarded their turf when it comes to bankruptcy. Lawyers already lost this battle in the area of tax preparation. Today, non-lawyer tax preparers openly advertise the good advice they can give you in addition to completing your forms. BPPs can do no such thing when it comes to bankruptcy forms.
Under the new bankruptcy law, BPPs must give debtors a form that lists all the things BPPs can't do (form 19B), and all the topics they can't discuss -- basically anything that might be characterized as legal advice. Thus, the sort of tips that tax preparers commonly give to people when preparing their taxes, BPPs can't give when bankruptcy forms. (Some believe this raises profound First Amendment and restraint of trade issues.)
How to File For Chapter 7 Bankruptcy (HFB book) will not give you specific advice, either, but it does discuss important facts to consider in making the kinds of decisions listed the following table:
|What BPPs can't do (language of Form B 19)||Plain English||Where topic is covered in HFB Book.|
|I am forbidden
to offer you any legal advice, including advice about any of the following:
|• whether to file a petition under the Bankruptcy Code (11 U.S.C. § 101 et seq.);||Whether you should file for bankruptcy||Ch. 1 (free sample chapter)|
|• whether commencing a case under chapter 7, 11, 12, or 13 is appropriate;||What kind of bankruptcy you should file for||Ch. 1 (free sample chapter)|
|• whether your debts will be eliminated or discharged in a case under the Bankruptcy Code;||Which debts are non-dischargeable, secured, etc.||Ch's. 9, 5|
|• whether you will be able to retain your home, car, or other property after commencing a case
under the Bankruptcy Code;
|Whether you'll lose your house, car, or other property||Chs. 3, 4, 5|
|• concerning the tax consequences of a case brought under the Bankruptcy Code;||Tax consequences||Not covered|
|• concerning the dischargeability of tax claims;||Whether or not your tax debts will be wiped out||Ch. 9|
|• whether you may or should promise to repay debts to a creditor or enter into a reaffirmation
agreement with a creditor to reaffirm a debt;
|Which secured loans are worth hanging onto, versus other options (e.g. surrendering property)||Ch. 5|
|• concerning how to characterize the nature of your interests in property or your debts; or||Whether property is exempt
into which exemption category a particular item fits
|Ch. 3, 4|
|• concerning bankruptcy procedures and rights.||What happens in bankruptcy; what are your rights||Whole book|