INTRODUCTION TO BANKRUPTCY EXEMPTIONS: FILING BANKRUPTCY DOES NOT MEAN YOU WILL LOSE EVERYTHING.
People are not required to forfeit all of their property when they file bankruptcy. Bankruptcy laws are intended to use individuals’ property to satisfy as many debts as is reasonably possible. The process is not intended to pauperize people. In order to avoid this result, bankruptcy law exempts certain property, up to a maximum value, from the bankruptcy estate. Property that is exempt from the estate is not forfeited in the bankruptcy. That means individuals may keep the exempt property even after they file bankruptcy, as long as the value of that property does not exceed the statutory limit. Federal law allows states to replace the federal exemption scheme with their own. New York allows individuals to choose between federal and state exemptions. Both federal and New York law essentially exempts the same types of property, but the two laws place different limits on each type. This means that people may be able to keep more of their property under one law rather than the other, depending on the types of property they own at the time they file bankruptcy.
Exempt property generally falls under five categories:
1. Basic Necessities and intimate personal items: This category includes personal items such as wedding rings, religious texts, domestic animals, a certain amount of cash, and a home (up to a maximum value).
2. Insurance policies and annuities: Payments individuals receive from insurance claims or annuities may be exempt. This means that after individuals file bankruptcy, they may still receive, for example, payments received under a life insurance plan taken out on a deceased spouse.
3. Motor Vehicles: Individuals may keep an automobile, as long as its value does not exceed a certain limit.
4. Benefits: Benefits such as social security, unemployment, veterans and disability payments may be exempt.
5. Property due under a money judgement: Individuals that receive payments following some lawsuits – such as personal injury, wrongful death, or others – may keep this income, up to a certain value limit.
Again, property exempted under these categories may not exceed certain values, though there may be exceptions and extensions in certain situations. The topic of bankruptcy exemptions is very complicated, and some issues are disputed even among experts. For more information on exemptions, see our earlier posts Changes to NY Bankruptcy Exemptions and Federal Bankruptcy Exemptions & NY .
If you have any questions about bankruptcy and would like to speak to an attorney, please call the Law Firm of Vaughn, Weber & Prakope, PLLC at (516) 858-2620 today to schedule a free consultation.