What Happens if a Debtor Misses the Mandatory Initial Meeting of Creditors?
In bankruptcy, the initial meeting of creditors is called a Section 341 meeting. Established within the U.S. Bankruptcy Code, the creditors' meeting is required under Chapters 7, 11, and 13 and is mandatory for debtors. Even though a debtor may retain counsel to handle his case, he must still attend the creditors' meeting.
The purpose of the creditors' meeting is to provide a debtor's creditors the chance to meet with the debtor and his counsel and to review documents, materials, and information in the debtor's bankruptcy filings. Another purpose for the creditors' meeting is to give the bankruptcy trustee the chance to question the debtor as to the completeness, accuracy, truthfulness, and basis for the information contained in the debtor's filings, including petition, schedules, and statements. The creditors' meeting is the perfect opportunity for the trustee, creditors, and/or any counsel appearing to raise concerns, problems, or issues in the bankruptcy filings made, and to work with debtor and his counsel, if any, to resolve any issues quickly and early.
What to Expect
The key to a debtor's success in a creditors' meeting is preparation, communication, and information sharing. The responsibility for assisting a debtor with preparation for the creditors' meeting falls primarily on debtor's attorney. The more a debtor communicates with an attorney, reviews and completes required paperwork, makes necessary revisions, provides updates and supplementation as required, and listens to and adheres the instructions of his bankruptcy lawyer, the smoother and more efficient the meeting will likely be. Meetings typically take about five minutes in a standard, uneventful case and 15 to 20 minutes in instances in which there may be areas of concern. Creditors' meetings are conducted by and presided over by the bankruptcy trustee assigned to the case in Chapters 7 and 13. In Chapter 11 cases, an Assistant U.S. Trustee or other designee from the Office of the U.S. Trustee presides.
Failure to Attend
If a debtor fails to attend his creditors' meeting, the court will likely make an award of sanctions against the debtor. The typical sanction in most jurisdictions is the dismissal of the debtor's bankruptcy case for failure to attend the scheduled initial meeting of creditors. Because the initial meeting is set without input or coordination with the debtor's schedule, often, a bankruptcy trustee will be willing to reset the date once, if debtor and/or his counsel communicates the scheduling conflict promptly. Further scheduling conflicts may not be accommodated by the trustee, depending on the jurisdiction and local practice. Once the case is dismissed, a debtor must file a motion for leave to reopen the case or file a new case (if permissible), depending on the jurisdiction.