Guest Post Written by Atlanta Bankruptcy Lawyer, Jonathan Ginsberg
Bankruptcy lawyers throughout the country report a significant increase in the number of seniors seeking federal bankruptcy protection. In my Atlanta area bankruptcy practice, I speak to retirees frequently about debt issues and I have filed cases–usually under Chapter 7–for many of these folks.
Not surprisingly, many of the senior citizens I meet have waited months or even years to seek counsel about bankruptcy protection. Many of these men and women grew up in time where bankruptcies were rarely filed and financial problems were handled within the family, rather than in a public forum.
I suspect that some of my older clients are surprised when I agree with their assessment that bankruptcy is and should always be a last resort. In addition to providing legal services, a thoughtful bankruptcy attorney has an obligation to counsel our clients about both bankruptcy and non-bankruptcy options.
In fact, I am frequently able to advise these clients that bankruptcy is not necessary at all. Seniors with few assets and whose income comes solely from Social Security are effectively judgment-proof because the Social Security law provides specifically that–with limited exceptions for taxes, student loans or child support–government retirement or disability benefits cannot be seized by a judgment creditor. State laws often provide additional protection for personal property and even real estate. (Check with a lawyer who practices in the state where you live.)
Often, my advice boils down to advising my clients to avoid commingling their Social Security money with a spouse or adult child’s money, and offering suggestions about how to firmly, but politely, write a “drop dead” letter to a harassing bill collector.
I have met with far too many seniors who have allowed themselves to be pressured into giving a bill collector access to an otherwise protected checking account. My point here is simple: If you are a senior and you are over your head in debt, do not assume that any of the information offered to you by a bill collector is accurate. Knowledgeable and experienced consumer bankruptcy lawyers–folks like Russ DeMott, the publisher of this blog–will be happy to answer a question or two to calm your fears and empower you with the peace of mind needed to make an informed decision about bankruptcy options in your specific situation.
Special thanks to my friend and colleague, Jonathan Ginsberg, for this excellent post. Jonathan is the author of one of the nation’s leading bankruptcy blogs, which can be found at www.thebklawyer.com/thebkblog. He is an invaluable resource to me, and I appreciate his willingness to do this guest post. I, too, have noted the same reluctance with the older clients I’ve dealt with over the years. We both agree. If you need help, ask for it. Knowing your rights can bring emotional relief.