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.
Can you handle your own bankruptcy, divorce, eviction and/or foreclosure defense?
We have been receiving more and more calls and visits from individuals whose do-it-yourself legal representation went awry. These individuals have filed their own bankruptcy petition, started to defend their own foreclosure action, filed their own divorce petition or have tried to evict a tenant. We are usually asked if we can salvage their case by fixing the mistakes that were made. Sometimes we can, sometimes we can’t.
We are certainly not against people handling their own legal matters. We are all for people saving a buck in this economy. There are certainly situations where you can handle your own legal matter without any problems at all. However, you should be fully aware of the potential consequences you face should things not go so well.
Here are some of the potential consequences you face if you fail to properly follow procedure and/or the law when handling your own divorce, tenant eviction, bankruptcy filing, or foreclosure defense:
- Your case is dismissed (you have to start all over. You likely lose time and money)
- Treble damages for an illegal eviction
- Jail for an illegal eviction
- Case dismissed for failing to follow law or procedure
- Loss of non-exempt property
- Denial of discharge
- Adversary proceeding brought against (usually alleging non-dischargeability of debt)
- Jail for fraud
- Your answer is treated as a notice of appearance
- Loss of meritorious defenses
- Loss of your home
- Dismissal of petition
- Unnecessary delay
- Loss of marital assets and spousal support
The above is not meant to dissuade you from doing any of the above on your own. It is simply meant to give you an idea of some potential consequences you might face. It might be a good idea to consult with a knowledgeable attorney before making a final decision on self-representation. You may find that the potential savings are not that great and that you could actually end up losing lots of money and time if things go wrong.
No matter what you decide to do, we wish you well. All the best!
As always, The Law Firm of VAUGHN & WEBER, PLLC is here to assist you. We are conveniently located in the heart of Nassau County, Long Island, at 217 Willis Avenue in Mineola, NY. Contact us at (516) 858-2620 to speak with an attorney.
What is Exempt Property?
Exempt property is property that is protected by law from the claims of creditors. However, if exempt property has been pledged to secure a debt or is otherwise encumbered by a valid lien or mortgage, the lien or mortgage holder may claim the exempt property by foreclosing upon or otherwise enforcing the creditor’s lien or mortgage. In bankruptcy cases, property may be exempt under either state or federal law. However, NY has opted out of the federal law exemptions. Exempt property typically includes all or a portion of a person’s home equity, motor vehicle equity, household furniture and personal effects.
What Will Happen to My Non-Exempt Property If I File Bankruptcy?
Non exempt property is part of your bankruptcy estate and is subject to sale by the bankruptcy trustee (the debtor is entitled to receive any exempt portion of the sale proceeds). However, even if your property is not fully exempt, you may be able to keep it if you pay its non-exempt value to your creditors in a chapter 13 bankruptcy. Also, you could agree to pay the trustee an amount that would allow you to, in essence, buy back the non-exempt property. The money that you pay to the trustee will be distributed to your creditors. You may also be able to “trade” exempt property for non-exempt property. Essentially, you allow the trustee to take and sale exempt property to avoid losing non-exempt property. There are additional options available. A knowledgeable bankruptcy attorney will be able to assist you with “exemption planning .”
Call (516) 858-2620 to arrange a FREE consultation with a bankruptcy attorney!
Will I lose my home or car if I file for chapter 7 bankruptcy?
In most cases you will not lose your home or car during your bankruptcy case as long as you can exempt the equity, if any exists, in your home or car. In New York, a person is currently allowed a fifty thousand dollar ($50,000.00) homestead exemption and a twenty-four hundred dollar ($2,400.00) motor vehicle exemption. If the property is exempt it may not be taken by the trustee.
However, bankruptcy does not automatically make a valid lien, mortgage or other security interest go away. Therefore, if you don’t make your payments on that debt, the creditor may be able to take and sell your home or car, during or after the bankruptcy case. Technically, a creditor can repossess your car even if your payments are current. The law requires you to redeem, surrender or reaffirm the vehicle (your bankruptcy attorney should advise you about this issue).
As always, The Long Island Bankruptcy Law Firm of VAUGHN & WEBER, PLLC is here to assist you. We are conveniently located in the heart of Nassau County, Long Island, at 217 Willis Avenue in Mineola, NY 11501. Contact us at (516) 858-2620 to arrange a consultation with a bankruptcy Attorney.
Remember: The law often changes, and each case is different. The above is meant to give you general information, and not to give you specific legal advice.