First Revamped Bankruptcy Forms Out for Public Comment
The Judicial Conference Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure is asking for comment on the first proposed modernization of bankruptcy forms in two decades. The revised forms, published for comment, are all used by individual debtors and include the fee waiver and installment fee forms, income and expense forms, and the means test forms, replacing previous forms. The comments, submitted by the public, will be reviewed in coming months and will be used to fine-tune the forms.
The public comment period closes February 15, 2013.
There were over 1.2 million non-business bankruptcies filed in federal courts in the 12-month period ending September 30, 2012, where the debts were predominantly personal or consumer in nature.
"We recognized that the debtors filing as individuals may not have the assistance of a lawyer, and they may not be as sophisticated about finances as, for example, a large corporate debtor. Our goal was to make the official bankruptcy forms more user-friendly and less error-prone," said Bankruptcy Judge Elizabeth Perris (D. Or.). Perris heads an ad hoc group of members drawn from the Judicial Conference Advisory Committee on Bankruptcy Rules and representatives of bankruptcy-related groups. The Advisory Committee makes recommendations to the Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure about bankruptcy rules and forms. As the ad hoc group looked at revising the forms, they solicited feedback from bankruptcy judges, attorneys, clerks of court, academics, and organizations representing a range of users.
An expert in forms design helped to reformat forms and rephrase questions in the filing package for individuals. An initial challenge was to create forms in ordinary, conversational English. Another challenge was to provide appropriate pointers to information a filer might need to complete the form, such as the median income of their home state, or information on means testing.
The revisions produced forms with a more intuitive layout and a uniform feel, with clearer instructions that explain the process, with prompts and checklists, and with separate, more extensive instruction sheets.
The forms also became longer, but with the additional explanations and instructions it is hoped the information submitted by filers will be more accurate and there will be less need for follow-up by the court to hand-enter omitted data or to correct errors. The more accurate the information electronically filed, the more accurate and flexible the generation of reports.
"In the twenty years since the last forms overhaul, we've moved from paper to electronic files," said Perris. "We wanted to take advantage of available information technology, not only for online fillable forms but for the storage of data. Authorized users will be able to produce customized reports and display information in multiple formats."
Also, because the new forms make clear at the outset what information will be needed for completion, the complexities of filing for bankruptcy are underscored. As a consequence, more unrepresented debtors may seek representation rather than file pro se.
The ad hoc group is now in the process of finalizing for publication other forms used by individual filers and is drafting forms for non-individuals.