How to File an Emergency Bankruptcy Petition

If you need to file for bankruptcy quickly, you can file a bare-bones emergency petition now and the remaining documents later.

By , Attorney · University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law

Preparing bankruptcy forms is time intensive. You must fully disclose assets, debts, income, and other financial information in a petition exceeding 50 pages. Simply gathering the documents needed—such as bills, banking and investment statements, tax returns, and more—takes an appreciable amount of time.

This article describes the bankruptcy forms you'll need to file an emergency bankruptcy petition if you're in a hurry and don't have time to complete the lengthy bankruptcy paperwork. It also explains the circumstances that might make such a petition necessary.

What Is an Emergency Bankruptcy?

An emergency bankruptcy filing is a bare-bones petition that lets you streamline the filing process. Sometimes called an emergency bankruptcy, emergency petition, or skeleton filing, this essential tool helps you move quickly when trying to save property from the following:

A skeleton filing lets you put the "automatic stay" in place quickly—the order stopping creditor actions. As soon as it's filed, all creditor actions must stop (more below).

But you must file the rest of the papers within 14 days to keep the automatic stay in place. If you don't, the bankruptcy court will dismiss your case, and your creditors can resume collection actions.

Should You File an Emergency Bankruptcy?

You can't always dismiss a bankruptcy case, so no matter your time constraints, ensure you'll benefit from bankruptcy before filing. Whether the emergency filing will permanently or temporarily stop a foreclosure, repossession, garnishment, eviction, or lawsuit and whether you can "discharge" or wipe out other debts, like credit card balances and medical bills, are questions you'll want answered before filing.

You'll also want to know whether you might lose property in Chapter 7—the chapter you can't dismiss without court approval. A bankruptcy lawyer can assess your case quickly and explain whether you'll achieve your desired goals or if you could find yourself in a worse financial position.

How Does an Emergency Bankruptcy Petition Work?

When you file for bankruptcy, the court puts the "automatic stay" in place. The automatic stay is the order you're after when considering filing quickly because it prevents most creditors from moving forward with collection actions against you.

As touched on briefly above, you should realize that the stay will be temporary in Chapter 7. A Chapter 7 bankruptcy won't fix foreclosure, repossession, and eviction problems because, unlike Chapter 13, it doesn't have a payment plan option. Also, a creditor can lift the automatic stay and proceed with an action during your case.

Assuming you can afford it, you'll use Chapter 13 to catch up on delinquent mortgage and car payments. You might be able to fix an eviction if you can pay what you owe in a reasonable period (which is shorter than most people need—usually no more than 30 days).

Filing Requirements for an Emergency Petition

To start your bankruptcy case, you must complete, sign, and file the following emergency bankruptcy forms.

Emergency Bankruptcy Forms You Must File

The following documents are the minimum you must file to start your Chapter 7 case (often called the skeleton petition):

  • The bankruptcy petition. The first document includes identifying information and tells the court which bankruptcy chapter you intend to file. Learn about the Chapter 7 petition.
  • Creditor matrix or mailing list. You'll include a list of the names and addresses of all your known creditors. Some courts might let you file it a few days later. Your local bankruptcy court dictates the format of this form. Look for details on your court's website or call the court clerk. You can find your court's website using the Federal Court Finder tool.
  • Statement of Social Security Number. You'll provide your Social Security number on a separate form that the court will not make public.
  • Certificate of credit counseling. You must receive credit counseling during the 180 days before filing, with few exceptions.

Some bankruptcy courts might have additional requirements, such as written disclosure statements or electronic document copies.

Emergency or Skeleton Filing Fee

When you file your skeleton petition, you must either pay the filing fee or request an alternative fee schedule. If you don't qualify for a fee waiver and need more time to pay the fee, you can pay in up to four installments. You must submit the full fee payment when filing a Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

Notifying Creditors About the Emergency Bankruptcy

If you're using this process, you likely need to stop a collection proceeding. Don't depend on the court to alert your creditors about your bankruptcy. The clerk isn't going to make a special effort to reach out to your creditors but will send a bankruptcy notice in the ordinary course, which will reach your creditors in about a week.

Instead, here's what you or your attorney should do if you need to stop a foreclosure, repossession, wage garnishment, lawsuit proceeding, or some other action: Alert the creditor by immediately sending notice of your bankruptcy filing directly to the creditor.

You'll likely use email or fax to contact your creditor and include the court you filed in, your case number, and your filing date so the creditor can verify the information independently.

Filing the Remaining Bankruptcy Forms

You must file the remaining paperwork within 14 days, including all schedules and required forms. If you don't, the court will dismiss the bankruptcy case without prejudice (you can file again immediately, but the length of your automatic stay might be affected).

Talk With a Bankruptcy Lawyer

It is rarely a good idea to file an emergency bankruptcy if you can avoid it. Bankruptcies are paper-intensive, and bankruptcy law requires you to fully, accurately, and honestly disclose your assets, debts, income, expense, and financial information.

Filing a petition also triggers deadlines you'll be required to meet. If you file bankruptcy too hastily, you might make mistakes that could cause you difficulty later, including the dismissal of your case or a denial of your bankruptcy discharge. There are even criminal penalties if the court finds you were intentionally evasive or less-than-truthful in your statements and paperwork.

The simplest way to avoid these and other bankruptcy pitfalls is by consulting a local bankruptcy lawyer. Many will meet with you quickly and provide a thorough assessment of your case.

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