Setting yourself up to fail: Filing “Pro Se” Bankruptcy

Yes, as with all legal matters in the United States, you are allowed to file for bankruptcy protection yourself and you can usually find the forms online or in a do it yourself workbook that you find at local bookstores or online. You are allowed to file “pro se” in bankruptcy court, just as in all other courts. As the saying goes though, just because you can do something, doesn’t  mean you should.

Bankruptcy Law is complicated.  It is a hybrid blend of the laws of the State of Georgia and Federal Government.  The amount of time you spend learning and researching the law, completing the mountains of forms and taking time off from work to appear in court pales in comparison to the extremely costly mistakes you can easily make by not hiring a competent bankruptcy attorney.

Bankruptcy Laws can vary from state to state

The books you purchase and forms you find in those books and online can make it seem to be a simple enough process, but that’s the point. It may even look like you will be saving some money by not hiring a competent debt relief attorney. However, the truth is quite the opposite. The laws are  very complicated. As mentioned previously, bankruptcy is a hybrid type of law that blends state law with federal law and what you can do in one state may not be what you can do in others. There is a high likelihood you will omit something important, make a mistake on the means test or say or do something that will cost you your home, your car or other assets, including your retirement savings. Losing tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in an effort to save a few bucks is a very real possibility.   

 

The reality of Filing “Pro Se”

Once you file for Bankruptcy “pro se”, there is a high likelihood you will be faced by mountains of paperwork being filed on behalf of your creditors by attorneys whose job is to get the absolute best deal for your creditors as they possibly can.  These attorneys will work tirelessly and ruthlessly to ensure that your bankruptcy fails and that your creditors can resume harassing and collecting from you. Beyond the creditors attorneys, you will also be opposed by a trustee who is a highly trained attorney.  It is the trustee’s job to secure as much of your assets for your creditors as possible. Just because you’re not an attorney and don’t know the law doesn’t mean the creditors’ attorneys, the trustee or the judge will take it easy on you. You are still expected to know the United States Bankruptcy Code and the procedures of the bankruptcy court, including the local procedures of each individual federal bankruptcy judge.  

Investing in your future

The low cost of being represented by a competent bankruptcy attorney is one of the best investments you can make for your future.  Beyond not having to learn the many aspects of the law that your attorney is familiar with, it’s reassuring to have someone on your side who knows how the bankruptcy process works and can guide you through it successfully.  Beyond knowing the law, the attorneys at Harmon and Gorove have a long and successful relationship with many of the creditor attorneys and all of the current Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 trustees in the Newnan Division, all of whom know not to try to take advantage of our clients.

Hiring a Competent Bankruptcy Attorney

The experienced attorneys at Harmon and Gorove can give you advice based on your individual circumstances. Their decades of experience aren’t something you can get from a form you find in the internet. Do yourself a favor and invest in your future. Contact the competent and compassionate attorneys at Harmon and Gorove today for a FREE consultation.  Let us help you get your life and your financial freedom back from greedy creditors.

Cramdown: reducing the principal on secured debts

When considering filing a chapter 13 bankruptcy, you may find yourself in the position to be able to reduce the principal balance of a secured debt to the actual value of the property (car, household item, etc.) it is secured by. When you reduce this amount of debt in this way it is known as a “cramdown” and can be a very valuable tool in your bankruptcy case that can potentially save your automobile, real estate investments, and other personal property you have pledged to secure a debt. Because of the way the law is written, you aren’t allowed to use the cramdown provision on your primary home  but using it in other aspects of your financial life can net massive savings.

When your attorney initiates a cramdown, you’re taking the value of a secured item like a car and reducing the balance you owe in order to match the item’s true book value. When this happens, the crammed down amount is then placed in your unsecured debt in your Chapter 13 case. A cramdown can be extremely beneficial in certain cases and might allow you to pay only a small percentage of your unsecured debt.  Filing things this way could result in all of your unpaid unsecured debt being discharged at the conclusion of your Chapter 13 case. There are many other advantages to cramming down your loans with a Chapter 13. This includes reduced interest rates, the potential to stretch the payments across a greater period of time which might very well reduce monthly payment amounts to a more affordable level. Another fantastic benefit is that you can escape liabilities on any deficiencies by using a mortgage cramdown on investment real estate.

As with much in life, the cramdown in a Chapter 13 seems often seems too good to be true. While this is not the case, it does come with certain guidelines that were passed by Congress to place certain restrictions on how, why and when you can initiate a cramdown. The cramdown restrictions to remember are the 910 Day (roughly two and a half years) Rule on car loans, the One Year Rule on personal property (think TVs, furniture, etc.), and the restrictions on investment real estate mortgages.

The attorneys at Harmon and Gorove are extremely experienced in using cramdowns to the benefit of their clients.  With decades of combined experience, our team can help you find out of you qualify for a cramdown in a Chapter 13 and help you successfully navigate the intricacies of a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy so that you may emerge on the other side debt free.  Call our office today to set up a free consultation with an experienced and compassionate Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Attorney.

How do I find a good Bankruptcy Attorney?

This is a very important question, especially from people that haven’t ever had the need to hire an attorney or who are considering bankruptcy for the very first time. Depending on where in the State of Georgia you reside, there can be any number of options.  Finding a competent Georgia Bankruptcy Attorney is the most important factor in the outcome of your case. Below, we add a few bits of extra information to help you know that you have chosen the best lawyer for you that can help you navigate your way through the bankruptcy process successfully.

Finding the RIGHT Attorney

First, and most importantly, you want to make absolutely sure that the lawyer you choose is a SPECIALIST in bankruptcy law. We can’t possibly stress the importance of this enough.  Much like medicine, the law is extremely specialized.  Having an attorney who focuses on specific types of law allows them to have the kind of expertise you need in order to make sure your case is given the attention it deserves and has the outcome you want.

The United States Bankruptcy Code is second in complexity only to the United States Tax Code and thus, only an attorney who is a specialist in bankruptcy can possibly know all the ins and outs of the bankruptcy code of the United States and the specific laws of Georgia.

You have likely found several attorneys in your area that practice bankruptcy.  The question is, how do you choose between them? Probably the most important attribute of the best bankruptcy attorneys are their timeliness. Because of the very strict timelines in the bankruptcy filing process and the large amounts of paperwork necessary, the lines of communication between you and your lawyer are very important. At Harmon and Gorove, we pride ourselves on responding to our clients’ most urgent needs quickly and providing expedient service to keep their case on track.

Aside from timeliness, you want to find a local bankruptcy attorney who is not only experienced in successfully filing bankruptcies, but who also has a good relationship with the bankruptcy trustees in your division. Because each bankruptcy division and judge can do things a little differently than the other courts, it pays significant dividends to have a team of lawyers that is highly knowledgeable about the workings of the court in which YOU will be filing for bankruptcy.

There are many ways to find a good lawyer who can help you file bankruptcy, which include getting in touch with your state bar association, the local bankruptcy court, or asking friends or family who have filed before. Another good way is to just drive around and see which bankruptcy offices are actually open every day. Many of the bankruptcy attorneys you see advertising in the area only have satellite offices that are rarely staffed and if you do hire them, you likely won’t see them after the initial consultation.  Their attorneys work out of a centralized office somewhere in Atlanta and you definitely won’t see them walking through downtown, your kids won’t go to school with their kids and grandkids, and they won’t be at the high school football game on Friday night. Your attorney may not even show up at court with you, hiring a fill-in lawyer because you simply aren’t worth their time.  Finding an attorney that doesn’t just come in to the community to take your money just makes sense. Our attorneys at Harmon and Gorove are specialists who deeply care about the success of each client’s case. OUR attorneys will be there, by your side, every step of the way. We answer our own phone, we give you our direct emails and WE show up at court with you.

If you are looking for an attorney to help you through the bankruptcy process, give us a call to schedule a free consultation and let us show you why we’re the BEST choice to help you through the bankruptcy process.

Garnishment? My paycheck? Really?

The long and short of it is, yes, garnishment of wages can happen to you.

Finding yourself in a situation where you are experiencing financial difficulties can often create an immense amount of stress and people who find themselves in this unfortunate situation often don’t know who to turn to. When you have exhausted your other options one of the best solutions is to file for bankruptcy protection with the help of a qualified Attorney.

One of the concerns people face when dealing with financial hardship is the reality that your wages may be garnished by a creditor. If this happens, it magnifies the burden and will likely pose even greater problems than you were previously facing. Depending where you live there are federal and state laws in place that limit the amount that creditors can receive in a garnishment. However, when money is already tight any income you lose will have a dramatic effect on you.

When creditors seek a garnishment, they must first file suit in court and notify you of the pending legal action. Generally speaking, in Georgia, creditors can take no more than 25% of your disposable income or the amount that is above 30 times the federal minimum wage, whichever is less.

Rather than continuing to deal with unnecessary stress, many consider filing for bankruptcy protection as it causes all of the collection actions to cease immediately, under penalty of law.  In Georgia, we may even be able to recover some of your garnished wages. All of your creditors collection actions will be put on hold until your bankruptcy status has been determined and your case discharged. While many people view bankruptcy as giving up, we look at it as a form of relief when there are simply no other options available.

Filing for Bankruptcy allows you to get your finances back on track to give you more freedom and peace in your life.  When filing for Bankruptcy it is important to seek out a highly qualified attorney who SPECIALIZES in filing consumer bankruptcies. The attorneys at Harmon and Gorove have filed more than 5,000 successful bankruptcy cases and will put their knowledge and experience to work for you.  Contact our office today to arrange a FREE consultation with one of our highly trained attorneys.

Dying Without A Will In Georgia

It’s a task that many of us put off because of one reason or another.  Maybe you don’t want to talk about it, maybe you think it’s too hard or maybe you are just scared to start the process but when someone dies without a will that person’s “estate” will go through Georgia’s intestacy laws. There have been some very prominent people dying “intestate” lately including the musician, Prince. His massive estate is now in probate in Minnesota, his home state, and a fight is brewing amongst his possible heirs. Very few comprehend what this means or what the laws are in place, but essentially the State of Georgia, through its system of laws, has written a Will for you and you have no control over what’s in it.

What’s Affected

Only property that is solely in the decedent’s name will be handled under the intestacy laws. Certain property is considered to be out of probate. This property normally includes things that are owned jointly with someone else or have a designated beneficiary.

Accounts (401k, IRAs, checking and savings, pensions, etc.) that have a POD (payable on death) designation or property that is owned in joint jointly with someone else, go to the surviving owner following the death of the other owner.

Retirement accounts, IRAs or life insurance proceeds, where a beneficiary is named, are also considered out-of-probate and will go directly to the beneficiary and not through the probate court.

Intestate Succession

The most significant problem that arises when it comes to handling an estate through the laws of intestacy involves who receives what from the deceased’s estate. A large part of who gets what depends on whether the deceased passed leaving a surviving spouse, children or parents.

If you were Married with children:

If you leave a surviving spouse and children, your spouse and your children will have to share your property. In Georgia, the spouse’s portion of the estate can’t be less than 1/3 of your estate.

Married with no children:

If you have died and did not have any children your surviving spouse will receive the entirety of your estate.

Not married but you have children:

If you aren’t married at the time of your death but you have surviving children your children receive equal portions of your estate.

No spouse, No children but surviving parents:

In you aren’t married and don’t have living descendants, but one or both of your parents are still alive, the property goes to your parents.

No spouse, No descendants, No living parents:

If you die with no spouse or living descendants and your parents have predeceased you but DO have living siblings, your brothers and sisters will inherit your estate.

How Is The Amount of The Surviving Spouse’s Share Determined

Georgia’s intestacy laws are formulated to make sure that any spouse you leave behind is taken care of in the event that you die leaving children or grandchildren.

The law makes it clear that, even if you die leaving a significant number of descendants, your surviving husband or wife’s share of your estate can’t be less than 1/3 of the total value of the assets. Whatever is left over is split equally among the children and/or grandchildren.

What Will The Size of The Children/Grandchildren’s Share be?

How much of your estate that your kids will get depends on how many kids you have. All legally recognized children of yours will receive a portion of your estate. Legally recognized children are children born naturally to you and your spouse or adopted by you or your spouse The law does not include step-children.

If one of your children died before you but did leave grandchildren that child’s share is divided equally among their children.

Will the State Get My Property:

While it is extremely unlikely, situations where someone dies with no family do occur on extremely rare occasions.

The law is set up so that in the event that you die without a will and you have no immediate family, your extended family will receive your property.  Your extended family would be cousins, aunts and uncles, and others on down the line. The laws exists for the purpose of ensuring that anyone who is related to the deceased receives the property. If absolutely no relative is available, then, and only then, will the state receive the property.

Avoiding costly battles:

Dying intestate happens frequently. It even happens to the most famous and wealthy among us.  Developing even a simple will is something that most people don’t want to think about but it can make the grief and stress of losing a loved one much more bearable.  If your family knows your wishes it can alleviate the stress of making decisions at one of life’s most trying times. Having a will can also help avoid costly legal battles to determine who gets what.  It also allows you to have a sense of peace knowing that your property will be divided up as YOU want it to and only those people that YOU approve will get your stuff. If you want to get the ball rolling on preparing a will give the compassionate and understand attorneys at Harmon and Gorove a call today.  We will meet with you and discuss your options and we offer cost effective estate planning options.  Let us help you have peace of mind.