Wisconsin Petition Preparer Guidelines

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A petitioner preparer is any person who is not a lawyer or someone who works for them who generates bankruptcy petitions to submit to court. Wisconsin law permits the use of petitioner preparers, but limits how much they can charge for their services, what services they can perform and a petitioner's remedies against them in cases of fraud or poor performance.

In Wisconsin, any individual or corporation can act as a petitioner preparer. There is no requirement that the preparer have any legal experience or be knowledgeable about bankruptcy proceedings, although most do.

Duties of a Petition Preparer

A preparer generates a petition to declare bankruptcy on behalf of another person. Because the federal court has jurisdiction over bankruptcy cases, the format and content of petitions are the same nationwide. Therefore, a preparer usually inputs required information in the correct format. Petitioner preparers are sometimes referred to as "typing services."

Petitioner preparers are prevented by law from charging more than $150 for their services. This fee does not include any court filing charges. If you use a preparer, there is no legal remedy for you if they do a bad job or your petition is denied. As such, you may be out $150, despite having a bankruptcy petition.

Preparers cannot provide legal or other advice to you. Therefore, they cannot answer questions about whether you should file for bankruptcy, which chapter of the Federal Bankruptcy Code to file under, what to state in the petition or which exemptions to claim, what debts or liens are can be discharged under the Code, the relationship between bankruptcy and home foreclosures or other similar questions. They also cannot answer any questions about tax consequences of filing for bankruptcy, defenses that may be lodged against you by a creditor, what debts can be reaffirmed or how much you will owe if your petition is granted. This reinforces the fact that they are essentially typing services.

A preparer may provide you information on the general time frame for how long the court takes before approving or denying a petition and the general bankruptcy court proceedings. Any statements they provide, however, are not considered legal advice, but only general statements. Here again, you have no legal recourse if they are wrong or misleading.

Reasons to Hire a Petition Preparer

A preparer ensures that your petition conforms to federal filing guidelines. Your petition will be in the correct format and include the appropriate information. You should be able to walk into your local federal courthouse and file it without a problem.

Prior to hiring a preparer, however, you must do some research. Compare the experience of multiple preparers and check to see if they have any complaints lodged against them with the bankruptcy court or Better Business Bureau.

Getting Legal Advice

If you are considering filing for bankruptcy, seek legal representation. A bankruptcy attorney will review the federal laws and filing guidelines and assist you with preparing a petition.