Palm Beach Gardens, Vero Beach & Wellington Bankruptcy Attorney
Thousands of people across Florida file for bankruptcy every year. There is a significant amount of misinformation about filing for bankruptcy as well as what it can mean for you and your finances. Bankruptcy protections allow you to escape your overwhelming debt and get back on track to rebuild, restart, and recover. The experienced Palm Beach Gardens, Vero Beach & Wellington bankruptcy attorneys at our firm are here to help you analyze your financial situation and help you through the bankruptcy process.
Our experienced bankruptcy attorneys have a history dealing with many different types of bankruptcy proceedings on behalf of our clients. Our office has one of the few attorneys that is board-certified in both business and consumer bankruptcy law by the American Board of Certification. Issues handled by our firm include:
- Chapter 7 Bankruptcy
- Chapter 11 Bankruptcy
- Chapter 12 Bankruptcy
- Chapter 13 Bankruptcy
- Adversary Proceedings
- Bankruptcy Malpractice & Expert Witness Services
- Creditor Representation
- Debt Management
- Trustee Representation
How to Choose a Bankruptcy Attorney
You want to work with a bankruptcy attorney who is willing to sit down with you and listen to your concerns about the bankruptcy process in addition to explain the misconceptions about filing for bankruptcy. A lawyer can negotiate with your creditors on your behalf and zealously advocate for you in bankruptcy court.
It is vitally important that you work with an attorney who has an in-depth knowledge of bankruptcy law. Attorneys who have been certified as experts in bankruptcy law can ensure that your case is handled in the best, most efficient manner. Lawyers can be certified in business or consumer bankruptcy law, and only 112 attorneys across the country are certified in both.
Some people search for a bankruptcy attorney based on their fees, which is understandable given the tight budget constraints while going through bankruptcy. However, many West Palm Beach bankruptcy attorneys that charge very low fees also have very little experience in these matters. In addition, other attorneys claim that they charge low rates until you get into their office, where they charge you more for your specific situation. You want a bankruptcy attorney who is upfront about the fees associated with these types of cases in addition to the experience to successfully handle your bankruptcy with creditors and the courts.
Experienced Bankruptcy Law Firm
If you are experiencing financial difficulty, how do you go about finding the right lawyer to help you?
Let’s assume you were looking for a cosmetic surgeon. Did you know that any surgeon can hold himself out to be a “cosmetic surgeon”? Would you hire one who did not specialize in the practice? Of course not. You would probably limit your search to surgeons who are board-certified in plastic surgery, knowing that they have met strenuous criteria and have undergone extensive training in the field. In the same realm, you should know that any lawyer can file bankruptcy. Just because they are authorized to do it, does not mean they do it well.
You should take no less care in selecting a bankruptcy attorney than you would in selecting a doctor to help you with a life threatening illness.
There is only one national organization that certifies attorneys as bankruptcy specialists. This is known as the American Board of Certification (www.ABCworld.org). It imposes stringent and comprehensive requirements before it will certify a lawyer as a bankruptcy specialist. Furthermore, the Board separately certifies lawyers as to whether they are specialists in the area of consumer bankruptcy or business bankruptcy.
Currently, there are only 112 lawyers in United States who are board-certified in both business and consumer bankruptcy law.
You may be tempted to shop for a bankruptcy lawyer based on their fees. With lawyers, like everything else in this world, you get what you pay for. Lower fees may be charged by less experienced lawyers or those who provide less personal attention to client’s concerns. Be wary of a lawyer who imposes the “bait and switch” tactic: they quote a fee in advertising or over the phone, but once in their office, they advise you that this fee applies only in limited situations.
There are several questions that you should ask before retaining a bankruptcy lawyer, in addition to the obvious inquiry about certification. Here are a few recommended topics for discussion:
- How many years has the lawyer been in practice?
- How much of their practice is devoted exclusively to bankruptcy law?
- At the intake conference, will you be meeting with a lawyer or will you be interviewed by a staff member or a paralegal?
- Has the lawyer had personal experience in cases that have been challenged?
- Will the lawyer handle a challenge or will you be referred to another lawyer?
- Does the lawyer handle all different forms of bankruptcy?
- Does the lawyer offer non-bankruptcy alternatives, such as asset protection planning, debt management, credit restoration and dispute resolution and general financial distress counseling?
- You are entitled to learn about a lawyer’s credentials, reputation and experience without being charged for that information. You should insist upon it before making your decision.
Florida Bankruptcy FAQs
What happens at the initial consultation?
We will explore your circumstances with you. Typically, before we are in a position to answer your questions, we have to spend time with you to get answers to the facts that we believe will be relevant to solving your problems. There are many ways to resolve financial distress; we will explain all of your options and answer all of your questions. We understand the emotions and the levels of anxiety that you are experiencing. You will always be treated with respect.
How Much Does It Cost?
Until we know what “it” is, it is impossible to quote fees. As a matter of fact, if your circumstances involve a bankruptcy filing, it is a violation of federal law to quote fees over the telephone or on the Internet. We realize that many firms do it. Do you really want to employ a law firm that, in an effort to gain clients, is willing to break the very laws they are supposed to be helping you with?
Every business and person has circumstances that are uniquely their own. We will work with you to decipher those circumstances and to offer you the most cost-effective and economically prudent solutions to your issues. At every stage of the game, we will give you a clear picture of the legal fees you might expect.
If I am looking at bankruptcy, how am I supposed to afford it?
In the course of your initial consultation, we will show you time-tested methods that will put you in a position to afford legal representation. Often, this involves a custom designed cash flow program that enables you to create your legal “war chest”.
My problem involves an emergency or a time sensitive matter. Will I get an appointment promptly?
Our staff is trained to ask the essential questions to determine if your matter involves the type of time sensitive crises that require immediate attention. If so, we will work to accommodate you and your schedule immediately.
I don’t want to file bankruptcy. Are there other solutions to my debt problems?
At Markarian & Hayes we consider bankruptcy to be the method of last resort. There are often several options available to resolve debt problems. For example, in some circumstances it may be practical to employ debt management techniques. We have developed a proprietary program that has assisted many clients in resolving their unable or unwilling to utilize the bankruptcy process.
How do I know if filing a Chapter 11 makes sense for my business?
You should never file Chapter 11 without thoroughly understanding, in specific terms, the exit strategy. If you have only a general understanding of what your plan of reorganization or restructuring might be, it is difficult or impossible to successfully confirm a Chapter 11 case and extricate your business from bankruptcy. We undertake a financial analysis of the past and future of your business and plug in the tools available in Chapter 11 to provide you with a visible exit strategy for your business. We do this using proprietary systems unique to Markarian & Hayes.
What is Chapter 12 Bankruptcy?
Chapter 12 allows individuals, partnerships, LLC’s and corporations who qualify as family farmers and family fisherman to restructure their debts. Similar to Chapter 11 and Chapter 13, Chapter 12 involves repaying debts over a three to five year period, through a plan of reorganization. What makes Chapter 12 relief unique from that offered by Chapters 11 and 13, is that Chapter 12 contains several provisions that specifically address the needs of the farming and fishing communities.
How can Chapter 12 help family farmers and fishermen?
One primary advantage of Chapter 12 is that it offers higher debt limits and more freedom than Chapter 13, without the time and expense associated with a Chapter 11 reorganization. The higher debt limit is responsive to the fact that farming and fishing operations tend to incur much higher debts than the average individual. Chapter 11 is tailored more for corporations. Chapter 11 has no debt limits, but it is far more costly and complex than Chapter 12. Another advantage over both Chapter 13 and Chapter 11 is that Chapter 12 makes it much easier for farmers and fishermen to restructure loans secured by their primary residence.
Who is eligible for relief under Chapter 12?
To file for relief under Chapter 12 as a family farmer, an individual must meet the following criteria:
- Must be currently engaged in a farming operation;
- Must have regular income sufficient to fund a plan of reorganization;
- At least 50% of gross income for the year was derived from a farming operation owned or controlled by the individual; and
- Total secured and unsecured debts cannot exceed $4,031,575.00, and at least 50% of debts (excluding debt for the principal residence of the individual) arise from a farming operation.
To file for relief under Chapter 12 as a family fisherman, an individual must meet the following criteria:
- Must be currently engaged in a commercial fishing operation
- Must have regular income sufficient to fund a plan of reorganization
- At least 50% of gross income for the year was derived from a commercial fishing operation owned or controlled by the individual; and
- Total secured and unsecured debts cannot exceed $1,866,200.00, and at least 80% of debts (excluding debt for the principal residence of the individual) arise from a commercial fishing operation.
A corporation, LLC or partnership will qualify as a family farmer or family fisherman if
- More than 50% of the outstanding stock or equity is held by one family, and such family conducts the farming or fishing operation;
- More than 80% of the value of its assets consist of farming or fishing related assets;
- Stock cannot be publically traded; and
- For family farmers – total debts do not exceed $4,031,575.00 (excluding personal residence of the farmer shareholder) and at least 50% of debts arise from the farming operation owned by the partnership or corporation.
- For family fisherman – total debts do not exceed $1,866,200.00 (excluding personal residence of fisherman shareholder) and at least 80% of debts arise from the farming operation owned by the partnership or corporation.
What is a farming operation?
The term “farming operation” includes the following: farming, tillage of the soil, dairy farming, ranching, production or raising of crops, poultry or livestock, and production of poultry and livestock products in an unmanufactured state.
Can couples file jointly?
Yes. Married couples can file jointly through a single petition. Similarly, a partnership may file a single petition as a corporation, subject to the qualifications set forth above.
Can I retain control of my farm after filing for Chapter 12?
Yes. A Trustee is appointed in Chapter 12 to oversee distributions to creditors and to monitor the progress of the case, but control of the daily operations remains in the hands of the debtor/owner. The Trustee’s role is limited to financial oversight and compliance with the bankruptcy rules. Chapter 12 Debtors retain their autonomy over the day to day farming operations.
What is Chapter 13 Bankruptcy?
Chapter 13 is a form of reorganization where debtors repay a portion of their debts over a three to five year period. The key distinction from chapter 7 is that, in exchange for repaying a portion of your debts, you get to keep your assets. A Trustee is appointed to oversee the payment plan and to ensure that all requirements of Chapter 13 are met.
Why would I want to file Chapter 13 rather than Chapter 7?
As mentioned above, the biggest benefit is that you can keep your assets. Additionally, chapter 13 allows debtors to discharge certain debts that cannot be discharged in chapter 7, such as equitable distributions (divorce settlements). Some people are not eligible for chapter 7 because their income is too high, which leaves chapter 13 as the only option.
How much of my debt will I have to repay in Chapter 13?
The amount of debt you must repay in Chapter 13 depends on the type of debt, the value of your assets, and your income. Many factors come into play when determining the overall plan payment, but here are some guidelines:
Bankruptcy Costs: You must pay 100% of legal fees, court filing fees, and a 10% fee on all plan payments to the Trustee.
Priority Debts: You must pay 100% of priority debts, which generally include taxes, child support and alimony. Some taxes are dis-chargeable, but recent tax obligations must be paid in full.
Secured Debts: You must pay the value of the property that you retain. If you want to keep your home or your car, you must pay the full amount that you owe on the loan. Loans secured by investment properties can be reduced to the value of the property.
Unsecured Debts: This is a complex calculation that takes into account your projected disposable income (the net amount of money that you have left over after paying allowed expenses) as well as the value of the assets that you seek to retain. You must pay out, at a minimum, the liquidation value of your assets. You must also pay, at a minimum, your projected disposable income for a period of three to five years. This could result in a payment of anywhere from 0% to 100% of what you owe. The determining factor is not the amount of your debt, but the value of your assets and your income.
Do I qualify for Chapter 13?
Not everyone will qualify for Chapter 13. To file for relief under this Chapter, you must meet the following requirements:
- Individuals only (no businesses);
- With regular income – can be from wages, alimony, social security, pension, rents, public benefits, disability, unemployment, etc.;
- With secured debts (mortgages, car loans, etc.) that do not exceed $1,149,525, and unsecured debts that do not exceed $383,175; and
- You must be current on your federal income tax filings.
Why might someone file Chapter 11 instead of Chapter 13?
The most common reason for filing for relief under chapter 11 rather than chapter 13 is due to the debt limits. People who owe over $383,175 in unsecured debt or $1,149,525 in secured debt cannot file for chapter 13. However, there are other important reasons for opting to file for chapter 11. Chapter 11 allows debtors to structure their repayment plans for longer than 5 years, which can be vital in proposing a plan that allows debtors with limited incomes to repay their debts through a plan. Chapter 11 also provides greater freedom and flexibility because no Trustee is appointed. While it can be cost prohibitive for some people, for others it is a great option.
Can I save my home in Chapter 13?
Chapter 13 provides a mechanism that allows you to force a lender to sit down with you and negotiate a modification of your home loan. However, there is no requirement that the lender approve the modification. This settlement process facilitates loan modifications by ending the confusion and complications many borrowers experience when trying to submit loan modification packets to lenders and requires the lender to acknowledge receipt of the documents, review the package for all available modifications, and increases your chances of being approved for a modification, but there is no guaranteed relief.
If you are unable to modify your loan, you can use chapter 13 to cure the arrearage on your loan. You would be required to make your regular monthly payment throughout the Plan, plus repay the full amount that you are behind within the five year term. You can also use chapter 13 to repay HOA obligations through the Plan period.
I have IRS debt – can Chapter 13 help me?
Taxes, penalties and interest can often be reduced in the context of bankruptcy proceedings. For a more thorough explanation of the interaction of bankruptcy view our articles.
Markarian & Hayes has represented bankruptcy trustees for over three decades in a myriad of matters and has a thorough understanding of fiduciary and estate responsibilities and how to balance those in the context of pragmatic and cost efficient representation. We are glad to assist trustees in matters even when there is a prospect that the representation may not lead to the recovery of administrative fees.
How can Markarian & Hayes protect my interests as creditor?
We have represented hundreds of creditors, both institutions and individuals, who are seeking to collect debts or break through the obstacle of a bankruptcy. Creditor representation can also take the form of defense when you are being pursued by a bankruptcy trustee or other party seeking to recover a preference or transfer from you. Because of our familiarity with bankruptcy from all perspectives, including representation of trustees, we are well positioned to defend attacks in a bankruptcy setting or to challenge discharges.
What is an adversary proceeding?
An adversary proceeding is a lawsuit that relates to a bankruptcy case, but it is not part of the main bankruptcy proceeding. They usually involve some combination of the Debtor, the Trustee, and/or creditors of the Debtor’s estate. Examples of adversary proceedings include: objections to the Debtor’s discharge; disputes over the amount, validity, and priority of liens; proceedings involving requests for turnover and for injunctive relief; disputes over ownership of property; and other proceedings that in any way touch on or impact the bankruptcy case.
Adversary proceedings move along rapidly, and it is common for a case to be resolved within 6 months. This helps facilitate a speedy resolution of the bankruptcy case, and often puts an end to litigation that has been drug out in state court for years.
What happens if I’m involved in a lawsuit when I file for bankruptcy?
If you are the defendant in a lawsuit, that lawsuit will automatically be stayed (stopped) by the bankruptcy filing. If the plaintiff wishes to continue prosecuting the lawsuit, the plaintiff will either have to ask the court for relief from the automatic stay or try to bring the lawsuit into the bankruptcy court to be heard by the bankruptcy judge.
If you are the plaintiff in a lawsuit where you are suing someone for money damages and you file for chapter 7, that lawsuit will belong to the chapter 7 Trustee who may choose to continue the litigation. If you file for chapter 13, you can continue to litigation outside of bankruptcy court. If you file for chapter 11, you can move the lawsuit to bankruptcy court under certain circumstances or continue litigating in state court.
What can I do if my lawyer handled my case improperly?
You should always begin by getting a second opinion from counsel with proper credentials. In the case of bankruptcy, you should consider counsel who is board certified by the American Bankruptcy Institute (go to www.abiworld.org to find a list of lawyers near you). If you are convinced your case was mismanaged, you should then make a formal demand to your lawyer to address the problems and attempt to fix them. If you are still not seeing a solution, or the problem appears beyond repair, you should consider pursuing a malpractice claim.
What is involved in a malpractice claim?
You must retain counsel who either fully understands bankruptcy law, or, at minimum, a malpractice lawyer and a skilled bankruptcy lawyer who can serve as an expert witness. Be prepared to quantify in terms of dollars how the misdeeds of your original lawyer have damaged you economically…”but for this negligence, I would have eliminated $X of debt” or “ I would not have lost an asset worth $X”. It may help your chances for recovery if the negligent lawyer has malpractice insurance.
How does debt management work?
Basically, you are hiring us to become your intermediary with your creditors. Our goal is take over the role of interacting with your creditor body, and using our knowledge of laws like the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and Florida Consumer Credit Collection Practices Act to protect you from creditors, and to gain a tactical advantage over them. Our goal is to reduce or eliminate your debt, and in the meantime, to insulate you from harassment.
What is Debt Management?
There are often alternatives to filing bankruptcy. At Markarian & Hayes, we do not refer to ourselves as “bankruptcy lawyers”. We actually practice Financial Distress Counseling. This means we are looking for a solution to your financial problems, and these solutions do not necessarily involve bankruptcy. Debt Management is just what it sounds like: Programs and protocols designed to help you manage your debt.
Contact our Palm Beach Gardens, Vero Beach & Wellington Bankruptcy Attorneys Today
You should never file for bankruptcy without knowing what your options are or having a plan in place to deal with the situation that you are facing. If you are dealing with bankruptcy proceedings or have a need for representation in other bankruptcy matters let the experienced bankruptcy law attorneys at Markarian & Hayes help. Call the office or contact us today for a confidential consultation of your case.
You should never file bankruptcy without thoroughly understanding, in specific terms, the exit strategy. If you have only a general understanding of what your plan of reorganization or restructuring might be, it is difficult or impossible to successfully confirm a bankruptcy case and extricate your business or personal assets from bankruptcy. At Markarian & Hayes, we undertake a financial analysis of the past and future of your business and plug in the tools available to provide you with a visible exit strategy for your business. We do this using proprietary systems unique to Markarian & Hayes.