By Massachusetts Bankruptcy Attorneys

Most people who file Chapter 7 bankruptcy get to keep all of their property. This is because bankruptcy law allows the Debtor to keep different categories of property, either completely or up to a certain value. Under bankruptcy law, these categories of property are known as “exemptions”. The amount of property you get to keep in each category depends on whether you elect to take the state or federal exemptions. Not all states allow the Debtor to take the Federal exemption, but Massachusetts does. The following discussion will take a hypothetical Massachusetts Debtor and illustrate the best exemption option based on his property.

JOHN – MASSACHUSETTS EXEMPTIONS

John has a homestead bought 5 years ago, worth $400,000.00 with a $200,000.00 mortgage on it. He also has a car worth $20,000.00 on which he owes $11,000.00. He has a retirement account with $200,000.00 and savings of $3,000.00. His household furnishings are used and owned outright and his clothing and jewelry are average.

John would elect the Massachusetts exemptions to keep the most property. This is necessary because of the large amount of equity in his home ($200,000.00). Massachusetts exemptions allow the Debtor to keep up to $500,000.00 in home equity. The Federal exemptions would only allow John to keep $21,265.00 of his home equity. John will need to record a Declaration of Homestead in the registry of deeds before filing his bankruptcy in order to get the full exemption.

John’s retirement account is fully exempt under the Massachusetts exemption scheme. He gets to keep the $200,000.00 in his IRA. This would be true even if he elected federal exemptions.

John has $9,000.00 in equity in his car. The Massachusetts exemptions only allow $7,500.00 in equity in an automobile ($15,000.00 if he is a qualified senior). In theory, the Trustee can sell John’s car, pay off the car loan and keep the $1,500.00 left over after paying over to John his exemption amount of $7,500.00. However, the Trustee must consider costs associated with liquidating the asset, including storage and sale of the vehicle, not to mention the Trustee’s time and effort in getting the sale approved by the bankruptcy court. Finally, there is the possibility that the car will not bring its full value of $20,000.00 at a trustee’s sale. After all is said and done the Trustee may consider sale of this asset not worth pursuing on behalf of creditors. If the numbers weren’t so tight so that the Trustee would be likely to liquidate the car, it is still possible to keep the car. Often, a Trustee will accept a settlement from a Debtor in exchange for not pursuing sale of non-exempt property.

John’s $3,000.00 in savings is exempt under the Massachusetts scheme only up to $2,500.00. Preserving the $500.00 non-exempt amount is possible by using it for normal living expenses or depositing it into the IRA, although caution is in order here. While it is not improper to convert a non-exempt to an exempt asset prior to filing bankruptcy, the court has discretion to find such a move improper.

This example demonstrates how to maximize exemptions and why the vast majority of Chapter 7 Debtors get to keep most if not all of their property. Federal Exemptions differ from Massachusetts Exemptions, and Massachusetts debtors are allowed to choose which guidelines they will use. It is the opinion of the attorneys at Nashawaty and Rand that in most cases, Massachusetts Exemptions should be elected.

The Massachusetts bankruptcy attorneys at Nashawaty & Rand serve clients throughout the Greater Boston Massachusetts region including Abington, Avon, Boston, Braintree, Brockton, Bridgewater, Canton, Dedham, Dover, Easton, Hanover, Hingham, Hollbrook, Marshfield, Medfield, Milton, Norwell, Norwood, Quincy, Randolph, Rockland, Sharon, Stoughton, Walpole, Westwood, Weymouth, Whitman, Massachusetts.

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