Articles Posted in Exempt Assets

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With tax season upon us, many Americans are looking forward to getting big tax refunds. Many of us use these refunds to  replace aging appliances, catch up on car payments or put into a vacation fund for when warmer weather finally comes back.   However, many people are also worried about how to deal with debt that they racked up during the holiday season. In order to get relief from this debt, and with holiday ornaments finally put away, many consumers contemplate filing bankruptcy after the New Year begins.  Filing bankruptcy gives consumers a fresh start in their financial life. However, there is a trade-off involved: while filing bankruptcy will wipe out most of your debt, you might have to give up or buy back property that is not “exempt.” Filing for bankruptcy could require you to pay for an asset (usually a car) for which you already paid.

The filing of a bankruptcy case creates an estate similar an estate that is created after someone dies. This estate is made up of one’s assets that are not exempt under the law. The United States government appoints a trustee in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case to liquidate (or sell) any non-exempt assets and use the proceeds to pay unsecured creditors like credit cards. In order to be able to protect property and keep the trustee from taking from you when you file bankruptcy, the Debtor must claim the property is exempt under Florida or federal law. (Florida has “opted-out” of federal Bankruptcy exemptions, so Debtors may only use exemptions under Florida law or non-bankruptcy federal laws.)

The only part of tax refunds that is specifically exempt under Florida law is the part of the refund from the Earned Income Tax Credit. (Although Judge Jennemann in Orlando recently held that Child Tax Credit is exempt in Chapter 7 cases.)  The rest of your tax refund falls under the personal property exemptions under Florida law, which are among the stingiest in the nation. There are no specific exemptions under  Florida law to project the Child Tax Credit; the American Opportunity Tax Credit (which helps families pay for postsecondary exaction); the Lifetime Learning Credit (which helps people who go to college later in life or have to change jobs due to down-sizing or loss of jobs because of technology or free trade agreements); or the Child and Dependent Care Credit (which helps pay daycare costs for working parents). Many of these tax refunds are refundable and therefore give taxpayers a much larger refund than they otherwise would have received. If these refunds cannot be exempt under the law, you could lose them to the Chapter 7 trustee and not be able to spend them  the way in which you intended.

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When filing for bankruptcy, many consider the IRA (Individual Retirement Arrangement) and 401K exemption as the most well-known of the exemptions. This exemption allows individuals who must file bankruptcy the ability to keep their treasured retirement accounts out of their bankruptcy estate and safe from their creditors. In turn, this allows the individual to emerge from bankruptcy with their retirement accounts still 100% intact and en route to a fresh start.

But what happens if the IRA was not originally yours? What if it was inherited? Is it still safe from your creditors in bankruptcy? The answer is yes and no. If you inherited your IRA from your spouse, then it will still have the same protections as if the IRA was originally yours. However, if you inherited the IRA from someone other than your spouse, then it will not qualify for the exemption. Thus, it will be considered part of your bankruptcy estate and subject to the claims of your creditors. Continue reading →

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protect-money-umbrella-150x150One of the best bankruptcy exemptions offered to those filing bankruptcy is the retirement account exemption. As long as your 401K or IRA is ERISA (Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974) qualified, then your 401k or IRA will be protected if you file bankruptcy. Amazingly, there are not a lot of limitations to this rule. This is a wonderful law as it is very common for a person’s biggest asset to be their retirement account. Some of the qualified ERISA retirement accounts include 401(k)s, 402(b)s, IRAs (Roth, SEP, and SIMPLE), Keoghs, profit-sharing plans, money purchase plans, and defined-benefit plans. It is important to note that most employer-sponsored retirements plans are ERISA safe in bankruptcy.

401k Loans

Many who file bankruptcy may have also taken out a 401k loan in an effort to avoid having to file bankruptcy. It is important to understand how your 401k loan will be treated in your bankruptcy. First of all, a 401k loan is not considered a regular debt and will not be treated as any other creditor. In other words, a 401k is not dischargeable through bankruptcy and you will still have to repay it after your bankruptcy is completed. Additionally, in a Chapter 7 in which assets are available to be liquidated, your 401k loan would not receive any portion of the liquidated funds as a normal creditor would. In a Chapter 13, your 401k loan would not be part of your chapter 13 plan. However, you most likely will be allowed to still make payments towards the loan through automatic deductions on your paystubs. Continue reading →

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Assets-3-150x150What is an ESOP?

Employee Stock Ownership Plan, better known as an “ESOP,” is a way for employees to have ownership in the company they work for. They are used by several large successful companies because of the various tax benefits they can offer to the company as well as to the employee. Most commonly, employees obtain ownership of the company’s stocks as an award to help motivate and reward the employee. They are also a great way for employees to plan for retirement.

Because of how an ESOP works as a trust fund, employees generally do not have much control or access to their shares until they reach retirement age, or when their shares vest. Because of this lack of access, most ESOPs are treated just like a 401K, or any other retirement plan that is qualified under ERISA, when they file bankruptcy; therefore, ESOPs are treated as an exempt asset.

How does an ESOP work?

Just like a trust fund or spendthrift trust, all shares are retained in an ESOP trust until retirement age or termination of employment. Basically, when a company decides to set up an ESOP, they create a trust that the company makes yearly contributions to. The company then creates a formula that controls how employees receive stock in the company. Before an employee can have access to their stocks, their stocks must first vest. Continue reading →

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payday-150x150Having been unemployed for some time, you have accumulated a lot of debt and are now behind on paying those debts. You are considering filing bankruptcy, but happen to have two vehicles that are paid off and want to sell one of them. Can you sell one of those vehicles and then file a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy? The short answer is it depends, and this is why.

Selling one of the vehicles would be considered a pre-bankruptcy transfer of property, and there are several factors that determine whether a person can complete a pre-bankruptcy transfer. Your bankruptcy trustee will look at whether the property in question would have been exempt when you filed your bankruptcy, the price you received for the property, how those proceeds were spent, and the reason for the transfer.

If the property would have been exempt when you filed bankruptcy, then transferring the property prior to filing bankruptcy should not be an issue. However, it could cause a delay in the bankruptcy process as your trustee makes this determination. Your trustee will want to make certain that you received the fair market value of the property and that it was in fact exempt. In Florida, a debtor is allowed $4,000 in personal property and $1,000 in a motor vehicle if they do not claim the homestead exemption. If a debtor claims the homestead exemption, then they are only allowed $1,000 in personal property and $1,000.00 in a motor vehicle. Continue reading →

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Abby Lee Miller of the famous reality television show “Dance Moms” recently plead guilty to bankruptcy fraud and was sentenced to 1 year and 1 month in a federal prison to be followed by supervised release for another 2 years. Fraud is not something taken lightly by the federal court system and can have devastating and life changing consequences.

Fraud in bankruptcy can take a couple of different forms.

  1. When a debtor, the person who is filing for bankruptcy, tries to hide their assets in order to prevent losing them. When filing bankruptcy, you are provided certain exemptions that allow you to protect a portion of your assets. Any asset that is not protected by one of these exemptions can be taken from you by the trustee and then distributed to your creditors.
  2. When a debtor tries to bribe the bankruptcy trustee.
  3. When a debtor deliberately files falsified or incomplete bankruptcy forms in order to protect their assets from being seized by the trustee.
  4. When a debtor files for bankruptcy multiple times this can be viewed as an abuse of the right to file bankruptcy and enjoyment of the protections that bankruptcy affords. As soon as someone files for bankruptcy, an automatic stay is put into place that prevents any of their creditors from continuing to collect the debt that is owed to them. This is often seen when someone is facing foreclosure. The debtor files for bankruptcy on the eve of a foreclosure sale date with no intention of completing the bankruptcy. The intentions are to have more time in the home. The bankruptcy is later dismissed by the court because the forms are incomplete or because the debtor does not comply with the bankruptcy court, or the debtor dismisses the case themselves. Once the bankruptcy case has been dismissed and a foreclosure sale date has been reset, the debtor again files bankruptcy on the eve of the sale date with the same intentions as the prior bankruptcy. Some debtors do this over and over again, and this is an abuse of the bankruptcy system.

Continue reading →

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house-150x150Florida’s Bankruptcy Laws offer a very generous Homestead Exemption for those filing bankruptcy here in the Sunshine State. As long as you have owned your homestead property for 1,215 days or more prior to filing bankruptcy, the Florida Homestead Exemption is unlimited! How awesome? Right?

However, don’t get too worried just yet if you have not owned your homestead for 1,215 days. You can still take advantage of the Florida Homestead Exemption and protect up to $125,000 of the equity in your home per Debtor. That means that a couple can still protect up to $250,000 of the equity in their home when filing bankruptcy together, which is still pretty awesome!

But what happens when you file a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy with other real property that is not your homestead? Can that property be protected? How the property is treated will completely depend on whether or not the property is mortgaged and/or if there is any equity in the property. If the property is encumbered by a mortgage and there is no equity in the property, then you should be able to simply continue making those normal monthly mortgage payments, and the bankruptcy should not have any effect on the property whatsoever. However, if there is any equity in the property, then the Trustee will most likely take possession of the property and sell it in order to reach the available equity. Unfortunately, there is no exemption available to protect real property that is not your homestead.

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Rule 2004 of the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure, notoriously referred to as the 2004 Examination, is usually used by a Bankruptcy Trustee and is similar to a deposition to a few caveats. 2004 Examinations have famously been referred to as a shipping expedition.

What Is a Rule 2004 Examination?

Rule 2004 of the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure states that “[o]n motion of any party in interest, the court may order the examination of any entity” regarding “the acts, conduct, or property or…the liabilities and financial condition of the debtor, or to any matter which may affect the administration of the debtor’s estate, or to the debtor’s right to a discharge….”

Rule 2004 is very broad and loose. There are very few procedural safeguards or objections available to improperly posed questions. The main purpose of the 2004 Examination is to discover undisclosed assets, question transactions and determine if the debtor has committed any fraud. Continue reading →

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When you file a Jacksonville Bankruptcy, you are required by the United States Bankruptcy Code to list all of your assets in your Bankruptcy Petition. The reason being is to assist the Court, and your appointed Trustee, in figuring out which of your assets you are allowed to keep, and which of your assets you must turn over to your Bankruptcy Estate. The assets surrendered to your Bankruptcy Estate are liquidated to pay your creditors. If there is an asset you wish to keep, then you must accurately list that asset in your Bankruptcy Petition as well as the exemption (if applicable) that allows you to retain the asset.

The biggest hurdle is figuring out what your assets are and what exemptions are available to you. By definition, an asset is anything that has a value and that which can be sold or liquidated in order to pay your debts or commitments. The most common looked over assets are whole life insurance policies, as well as insurance policies in which you are the named beneficiary, accrued or unused vacation pay, timeshares, season tickets, unpaid insurance claims, security deposits, class action lawsuits, trademarks, liquor licenses, divorce settlements and tax refunds.

I cannot stress to you enough the importance of disclosing all of your assets. One accidental omission could have devastating consequences. Take this situation as an example:

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Protect_thumbSection 529 of the Internal Revenue Code allows parents to set up education savings accounts for their child’s future college expenses. In Florida, these educational savings accounts are most commonly known as Florida’s Prepaid College Fund or Florida’s 529 Savings Plan. These types of plans can only be established for a child, stepchild, grandchild or step-grandchild and set up in the name of the person establishing the account (for example the parent or grandparent of the child) and the funds belong to that person.

When filing bankruptcy, this means the person who established the prepaid college fund for must disclose the fund in their bankruptcy petition as an asset. I am sure you are now wondering whether or not you will loose the prepaid college fund if you have to file bankruptcy, since it must be disclosed. The answer is, it depends. There are Federal and Florida specific exemptions for these types of accounts. If the exemption applies, then the funds should be safe from your creditors and you will get to keep it if you find yourself in the dire position of having to file for bankruptcy.

In Florida, Florida Statute 222.2 defines Florida’s exemption of assets in qualified tuition programs as:
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