On April 1, 2020 the U.S. Trustee Program, the division of the Department of Justice that oversees bankruptcy trustees in all states except North Carolina and Alabama extended its requirement that all 341 meetings be conducted telephonically or other alternative means through May 10, 2020. This means that trustees are relieved from the requirement to conduct these meetings in person.
If you had your 341 meeting scheduled to take place after 3/19/2020 and/or your case was filed after 3/19/2020, your 341 meeting will take place telephonically or - depending on the trustee - via video conference.
If you have your 341 meeting coming up and you haven’t heard from your trustee about how they are handling 341 meetings during the COVID-19 emergency, contact their office immediately. You can find their contact information in section 5 of your Form 309A.
Follow the instructions you receive from your trustee
Chapter 7 trustees nationwide are figuring out the best way to handle this for their cases. Since they are all independent contractors, there is no unified approach, though most seem to be setting up their meetings so they can take place telephonically. Either way, you have to deal with your trustee for your case, so make sure to follow their process and don’t take guidance from someone with a different trustee.
Here are a few general tips to keep in mind as you prepare for and participate in your 341 meeting
3 days before your meeting, double check to make sure you have the required call-in information.
Some courts are putting the call-in information directly on filer’s case dockets. Upsolve users can check their case docket through their account in my.upsolve.org.
Call in at the time indicated. Even though this is done over the telephone, this is still a meeting set by the bankruptcy court and required by the Bankruptcy Code, so be timely.
Have a copy of your forms in front of you during your meeting in case you need to refer to them.
The day before your meeting, read the Bankruptcy Information Sheet. Chances are, the trustee sent it to you - but just in case, you can find a copy here.
When you’re making the call
Make sure you are in a quiet area. If you’re socially isolating with your entire family, make sure everyone understands that you shouldn’t be disturbed during this call.
Make sure you have a good connection. Call from a landline if your cell service is spotty to ensure the call is not dropped. If your call is disconnected, the trustee may have no choice but to reschedule your meeting for another time.
What is the Bankruptcy Information Sheet?
The Bankruptcy Information Sheet is a 2-page overview of the types of bankruptcy, what a discharge is and how it operates, and how reaffirmation agreements work, among other things. The trustee will ask whether you’ve reviewed the Bankruptcy Information Sheet during your 341 meeting. If you haven’t reviewed this document before the meeting, the trustee may require a continuance. This means you will have to appear (either telephonically or in person, as the case may be) for a second 341 meeting. Also, keep in mind that the trustee can’t explain this document or provide legal advice about it, so it’s important that you review and make sure you understand it before your meeting.
Proof of identity and social security number
At a regular in-person 341 meeting, the trustee would ask you to show your picture ID and social security card so they can verify your identity and social security number, as required by the Bankruptcy Code. Trustees are coming up with alternative ways to comply with this requirement and confirm a filer’s identity and social security number.
Here are what we know some of the trustees requiring from filers with respect to this requirement:
Having the filer submit the required documents via encrypted email.
Having the filer submit copies of the required documents via US mail.
Having the filer sign an affidavit or sign a declaration.
Having the filer hold up their ID and social security card to their webcam (video only)
Signing an affidavit or declaration
While the actual name of the document may vary, the basic premise behind these declarations is that you confirm your identity by signing something under penalty of perjury. Here are some of the documents we have seen used by trustees with respect to this requirement:
Affidavit of Debtor Regarding Telephonic Hearing
Declaration Regarding Administration of Oath of and Confirmation of Identity and Social Security Number
Affidavits have to be notarized. Bring your picture ID and your social security card to the notary. Keep in mind that many small businesses who provide notary services may be closed as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, so make sure you don’t wait until the last moment to take care of this. If you’re having a hard time finding a notary willing to meet with you in your area, call your trustee immediately to let them know.
Declarations DON’T have to be notarized. Follow the instructions provided by your trustee.
Make sure you follow the instructions on how to send the signed affidavit or declaration to the trustee. Some require that it is sent via US Mail while others allow them to be submitted via e-mail.
If you need an Interpreter Service
Interpreter services should be available, but it’s important that you contact the trustee well in advance of the meeting to inform them that you will require an interpreter. It’s important to give them a heads up so they can have someone available during your 341 meeting. Follow any instructions provided by your trustee.
If someone in your household is more comfortable speaking English than you are, consider asking them to sit in so they can assist if something goes wrong. Keep in mind that trustees don’t normally allow family members to serve as interpreters, so this should be considered a back-up solution only. Make sure you ask the trustee about having your relative assist during the meeting before they say anything.
What happens if I miss my call?
First, do your best to make sure you are prepared and ready to call at the appointed time. Even though it’s being handled telephonically, it is still an important court proceeding. This means you need to take this just as seriously as if you had to attend the meeting in person.
If you fail to call in at the appointed time, the trustee can file a motion asking the court to dismiss your case. Contact your trustee immediately upon realizing you missed your 341 meeting to avoid this. It’s unclear what procedure trustees will follow when deciding whether to seek a dismissal so to explain your mistake. Chances are you’ll be given a new time for your meeting. If they don’t hear from you at all, however, your case will be dismissed eventually.