Bankruptcy and the Vital 341 Meeting

A significant step in the bankruptcy process will be the 341 meeting. The 341 meeting is also referred to as the First Meeting of Creditors. It is the first opportunity for the debtor and the trustee to meet and for the trustee to ask the debtor specific questions concerning the bankruptcy petition.

The 341 meeting is extremely informal. Although the 341 meeting will be held at the federal courthouse, it is not convened in a courtroom. Generally, the 341 meeting will be in a side room specifically designed to handle bankruptcy matters. There are bankruptcy matters that do take place in the federal court room, but these are adversarial proceedings and rarely involve a 341 meeting.

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Once the bankruptcy trustee receives the bankruptcy petition, the first thing the trustee will do is schedule a 341 meeting. This will occur about one month after the federal court has received the debtor's bankruptcy petition. In the time between notification of the 341 meeting and the actual meeting, the bankruptcy attorney and the debtor will spend time preparing for the meeting. Because the 341 meeting is informal, there will not be any traditional trial prep. There will be no direct and indirect examination by the bankruptcy attorney. The preparation will generally consist of the bankruptcy attorney going over the constructs of the bankruptcy petition with the debtor. This is done because the trustee will ask the debtor questions in relation to the information that is contained in the bankruptcy petition. The more familiar the debtor is with the petition, the more accurately the debtor will be able to answer the trustee's questions.

The 341 meeting will generally last from 1-2 hours. The timing of the 341 meeting will depend on how many debtors are in attendance. The 341 meeting is usually scheduled in 2 hour blocks and the trustee makes every attempt to keep to the schedule. However, there are sometimes when a debtor's case can be complicated or too many debtors are scheduled in a given block that will make the 341 meeting run over the allotted time and delay the start of the next meeting.

Once the debtor enters the 341 meeting room, the debtor will see around 20 other debtors who are filing for bankruptcy. The debtors are generally placed in alphabetical order. Once the trustee reads out the general instructions, the trustee will ask the crowd of debtors some general questions. This first set of questions will be general and intended to illicit a "yes" or "no" response. The trustee does this because these questions are standard qualification questions to determine whether the debtor is still qualified to file for bankruptcy. This is also done to see if there have been any changes to the debtor's financial condition since the bankruptcy petition was filed. If a debtor answers "no" to one of these questions, it is not an automatic disqualifier for the bankruptcy. The trustee will make a note of it and ask for more information later in the 341 meeting.

Once the general questions have been asked and answered, the trustee will call each debtor to a table where the trustee and the court reporter are stationed. Once the debtor(s) have arrived at the table, the trustee will ask the debtor more specific questions pertaining to the bankruptcy petition. The debtor will generally see the trustee look down at a tablet of notes. These are notes that the trustee took on the bankruptcy petition prior to the 341 meeting in order to get a more accurate reflection on the debtor's case. The complexity of the debtor's petition will determine how long the remainder of the 341 meeting will last for that debtor.

Once the questioning has commenced, the 341 meeting has ended for the debtor. Although the 341 meeting has ended for the debtor, it is not necessarily the end of the bankruptcy case. There could be follow-up meetings after the 341 meeting or there could be an adversarial proceeding in the case.

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