Retired and Bankrupt

Recently the New York Times reported on the surge of bankruptcy filings among retirees. You can find the article here. Retirees now face the perfect storm of vanishing pensions, longer waits for social security benefits, and surging healthcare costs.

Over the past decade of representing consumers in bankruptcy, I can say one of the most heartbreaking things is seeing people who struggled and saved for years and thought they were set for retirement realize that they cannot afford to relax and enjoy their golden years. Too often people delay retirement and work themselves to the bone because they simply cannot afford to live off of their retirement and pay their bills. I have seen people liquidate retirement accounts, mortgage their homes, and take out predatory payday loans just so they can keep their head above water. Because of their fixed income and the high interest rates and fees attached to their debts, many retirees find themselves trapped making minimum payments with no realistic opportunity to pay off their debts. Bankruptcy offers these people a way to live within their means and enjoy their retirement, but often those who need the relief of bankruptcy the most are the most reluctant to file.

They tend to be old-school, they pay their bills, they follow the rules, they want to do whats right, and they expect their creditors to treat them fairly. Unfortunately most retirees soon realize their creditors won’t play fair, won’t work with them, and frankly don’t care whether or not seniors can afford their prescriptions or their mortgage payments. Most retirees come devastated, not understanding why their creditors won’t work with them, and I don’t have a better answer than ‘because they don’t have to.’ Many feel that bankruptcy is a moral failing, that it means they are bad people, but that is far from the truth.

The truth is bankruptcy is a business decision, not a moral one —  it is the business of your life and you are the CEO. If paying off creditors means you can’t make mortgage payments, buy prescriptions, or are working a physically demanding job instead of spending time with family, it is time to consider bankruptcy. Most people that file bankruptcy can keep their homes, their retirement savings, and free up their finances enough that they can start living. The most common thing I hear from these clients are that they wish they hadn’t waited so long to talk to me. If you or a parent is having problems working with creditors and paying bills, it’s time to talk. Maybe bankruptcy is the best option, other times, it might make more sense to have an attorney negotiate with your creditor to restructure payments. You have options, but the longer you wait to act, the fewer options you have.

Don’t let debt chase you in retirement, call us today and see if we can help.



5 Questions You Should Ask Your Bankruptcy Attorney

When you’re in the market for a bankruptcy attorney, you might not be quite sure what to look for. After all, this may be the first time you have ever had to face filing for bankruptcy. And with the already overwhelming and sometimes frustrating situation ahead of you, you want to know that you have the best bankruptcy attorney on your side to represent you.

Luckily, there are some straightforward questions that you can ask any bankruptcy attorney to be sure that they are the right lawyer for you. Here are a few important questions to ask to pick the most qualified and informed professional.

5 Questions That You Should Ask Your Bankruptcy Attorney

  1. Do you practice any other areas of law? Bankruptcy is highly specialized and not something an attorney should dabble in. The bankruptcy laws frequently change and you need someone who knows the ins and outs.
  2. How many cases have you filed? You don’t want an attorney to gain experience at your expense. I have filed almost 2,000 bankruptcies and have seen almost every situation imaginable. An experienced attorney will better assert your rights and will not back down in the face of opposition from an unfriendly creditor or trustee.
  3. Do you file cases under chapters 7, 11 and 13? Some attorneys only file chapter 7 cases because it is easier. They don’t want to put the time or effort into becoming proficient at other types. This is like having a dentist who refuses to work on molars. A good attorney should be able to tell you why you may want to file for chapter 11 or 13, even if you qualify for chapter 7.
  4. Are you board certified? Most people can’t tell if one attorney is better than another, and just go on whatever feels best. Luckily, bankruptcy is one of the few areas where lawyers can be certified as specialists. A board certified bankruptcy attorney must meet the following criteria:
    1. Their practice must be at least 60% bankruptcy.
    2. They must have been practicing primarily bankruptcy law for the past 5 years.
    3. They must have 15 other attorneys submit peer reviews.
    4. They must attend a minimum of 20 hours of continuing legal education every year.
    5. They must pass an 8 hour long written examination.

    As you can see, the requirements are very strict. I am one of only 10 board certified bankruptcy attorneys in the western district of Michigan.

  5. How many adversary proceedings have you prosecuted or defended against? Adversary proceedings are like a trial within the bankruptcy case. They generally occur either when something goes wrong or when your rights have been violated. Hopefully you will not be involved in one, but if you are, you don’t want it to be the first time your attorney is handling one.

We recommend taking these questions with you when you meet with your bankruptcy attorney. We also recommend meeting with more than one attorney, so you can truly pick the one that is best for you. It’s important to make sure you are comfortable with who you are working with and are confident that they will work hard on your behalf.

At Mapes Law Offices, we work hard for our clients in the Western Michigan area to ensure that they are getting the best representation possible. Not only do we help you out of a financial crisis, we also work with you to improve your financial decisions, so you can avoid ever having to file bankruptcy again. We understand that bad things happen to good people and we’ve dedicated ourselves to helping those people get out of rough waters. If you are in the Western Michigan area and would like help with your bankruptcy case, give Mapes Law Offices a call at (616) 719-3847 or request your free consultation today. It only takes one small step to get yourself onto a better financial path.

A Fond Farewell to a Wonderful Bankruptcy Attorney

Attorney Elizabeth Lamphier, J.D.

It is with mixed emotions that Mapes Law Offices says farewell to Elizabeth Lamphier, our staff attorney. Elizabeth has been handpicked by the new bankruptcy judge John Gregg to be his law clerk. This is quite a prestigious position and is a wonderful opportunity for her and we wish her nothing but the best. In her time as a consumer bankruptcy attorney Elizabeth has represented hundreds of debtors in both chapters seven and thirteen, and has done a phenomenal job protecting their interests. It is rare to find an attorney with as much skill, intelligence, compassion, and friendliness and our office was lucky to have her for the time we did.

It is rare that a Judge selects someone who has represented consumer debtors to be on their staff, normally clerks come from large corporate law firms and have never actually represented a debtor. In Elizabeth, Judge Gregg will have the input of someone who has gotten their hands dirty in bankruptcy, someone who knows how painful it can be for the debtors, and how scared people can be going through a strange and unfamiliar process. All Bankruptcy Attorneys in West Michigan, from Kalamazoo to Grand Rapids, all the way to Marquette, should be happy to know that they will have a friend in the courtroom.

On a personal note, I have to say that Elizabeth was a wonderful employee but an even better person. From the first time I interviewed her, Elizabeth impressed me as an unusually smart and nice woman. I am sad to see her leave our office, but absolutely thrilled at the adventure that she will be starting. I am going to be the first one to cal it, I guarantee that within the next twenty years, Elizabeth will become United States Bankruptcy Judge Elizabeth Lamphier. She has the temperament, compassion, and intelligence for the job and being a clerk will be wonderful training.

So please, feel free to share your favorite memories of Elizabeth in the Comment section below, or leave her well wishes.