Homestead Exemption and Married Spouses

It is not uncommon for one spouse to seek bankruptcy relief under Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code in a situation where title to the real property is held in both parties’ names. Generally, under such circumstances, the debtor typically claims a half interest in the property. Thus, the homestead exemption, under either New York law or federal bankruptcy exemptions, would be used to protect that interest. This creates an interesting legal issue  since under New York’s Real Property Law both spouses hold an undivided interest in the entirety of the property. If so, does the homestead exemption have to protect all of the equity in the property? 

In In re Naples, W.D.N.Y. Bk #14-10264, the bankruptcy trustee made precisely that argument. The trustee argued that since only one of the spouses had filed bankruptcy, and since the property was held by the parties as tenants by the entirety, creating undivided interest in each spouse, the debtor did not have sufficient homestead exemption to protect his equity in the property. The bankruptcy court disagreed. It held that under those circumstances, for purposes of valuing the debtor’s interest in the property, only one half interest needs to be valued and homestead exemption would be applied only to that half interest. The court reasoned that since the way the title is held creates limitations on each spouses to transfer title without consent of the other spouse, for the bankruptcy court’s valuation, only one half interest needs to be valued.

I think that this is a well thought-out result. If both spouses were filing for bankruptcy, each spouse would be able to apply their own exemption to any equity in the property, so if only one spouse files, that spouse should only need to protect that spouse’s half interest.

If you contemplating filing Chapter 7 Bankruptcy or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, or are dealing with debt problems in Western New York, including Rochester, Canandaigua, Brighton, Pittsford, Penfield, Perinton, Fairport, Webster, Victor, Farmington, Greece, Gates, Hilton, Parma, Brockport, Spencerport, LeRoy, Chili, Churchville, Monroe County, Ontario County, Wayne County, Orleans County, Livingston County, and being harassed by bill collectors, and would like to know more about how bankruptcy may be able to help you, contact me today by phone or email to schedule a FREE initial consultation with a Rochester, NY, bankruptcy lawyer.

Debtors and Failure to Turnover Nonexempt Assets

In Chapter 7 bankruptcy cases where debtors have nonexempt assets, debtors have an obligation to transfer those assets to the bankruptcy trustee. It is very common for such assets to be debtors’ tax refunds. In this situation, at the meeting of the creditors, debtors are asked to sign a stipulation which is usually incorporated into a subsequent court order, agreeing to turn nonexempt tax refunds, or a part of them, to the bankruptcy trustee.  If debtors do not do so, they are subject to serious consequences which may include loss of their discharge, contempt of court or monetary penalties. The loss of discharge is the most serious penalty from the debtor’s point of view, since it will leave the debts nondischargeable in this or any subsequent bankruptcy that the debtor may file.

But what if the debtors are unable to turn over such assets due to financial reasons? What if the tax refunds were used for living expenses since debtors simply had no other choice?

This issue was recently addressed in In Re Swan, Case No. 08-11210 (W.D.N.Y. 2014), where Judge Michael J. Kaplan had to decide what the consequences should be for the debtors who had failed to turn over nonexempt portion of their tax refunds to the bankruptcy trustee.  The Chapter 7 trustee sought denial of discharge, as well as a finding of contempt of court and monetary penalties. Judge Kaplan held that in the absence of dishonesty on the part of the debtors, loss of discharge would be too harsh of a remedy and the court should not automatically deny or vacate discharge. Judge Kaplan held that if failure to turn over the assets is not as a result of dishonest conduct on the part of the debtors, the appropriate remedy is a monetary judgment that the trustee would be free to collect. Further, Judge Kaplan also held that if the debtors are unable to turn over such assets to the trustee, they have an obligation to seek immediate relief from the Court.

This case further confirms that debtors always have to try to follow the court’s orders and, if they are unable to comply with them, they have to seek relief from the court. While the debtors in Swan did not lose their discharge, they were held in contempt of court and were subject to monetary penalties. All of this could have been avoided if they kept their bankruptcy attorney involved in the case and notified him of their financial difficulties.

If you contemplating filing Chapter 7 Bankruptcy or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, or are dealing with debt problems in Western New York, including Rochester, Canandaigua, Brighton, Pittsford, Penfield, Perinton, Fairport, Webster, Victor, Farmington, Greece, Gates, Hilton, Parma, Brockport, Spencerport, LeRoy, Chili, Churchville, Monroe County, Ontario County, Wayne County, Orleans County, Livingston County, and being harassed by bill collectors, and would like to know more about how bankruptcy may be able to help you, contact me today by phone or email to schedule a FREE initial consultation with a Rochester, NY, bankruptcy lawyer.

Fraudulent Conveyances and Bankruptcy

One of the issues that represents a significant problems for bankruptcy attorneys is that of fraudulent conveyances.  Generally, a fraudulent conveyance is a transfer of money or property from a debtor to someone or something else when either (1) the debtor intends to defraud creditors, or (2) the debtor received less than a reasonably equivalent value in exchange for the transfer, and made it while insolvent. For example, if a husband transfers his house out of his name to the wife so his creditors wouldn’t get it, the transfer is a fraudulent conveyance. Such transfers can create quite a few problems in bankruptcy.

The limitations period for avoidance of fraudulent conveyances has changed over the years, but currently it is two years under the Bankruptcy Code (Section 548) and whatever longer period is available under state law (Section 544). Since I practice in New York, I will use its laws as an example. New York has a six-year statute of limitations for avoidance of fraudulent conveyances.

Earlier this year, in In re Panepinto, Case No. 12-11230 (W.D.N.Y. 2013), Judge Kaplan of the Bankruptcy Court, Western District of New York, found that a transfer of a house to the debtor’s spouse 4 years prior to the bankruptcy filing was a fraudulent conveyance.  In 2008, a judgment creditor was seeking to collect on a debt owed by Mrs. Panepinto, who owned a house with no mortgages or other liens encumbering the property. So, to thwart her judgment creditor, she transferred the house to her husband with no consideration for the transfer.

Last year, Mrs. Panepinto filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, and her judgment creditor sought to set aside the transfer as a fraudulent conveyance under New York Debtor and Creditor Law §273.  The Bankruptcy Court sustained the judgment creditor’s challenge to the transfer. The reason the timing of the transfer is significant is because at the time of the transfer New York’s homestead exemption was lower than today, $50,000.00 rather than $75,000.00. Depending on what the value of the property was at the time the bankruptcy was filed, a portion of the value of the house may not be exempt. Since the court did not have this information presented, the court reserved its decision on the amount of the exemption pending proof of its value.

The lesson is that before transferring ownership in property, a debtor should seek advice of an attorney since any improper transfers may change status of assets from exempt to non-exempt or created other problems if subsequent bankruptcy is filed.

If you contemplating filing Chapter 7 Bankruptcy or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, or are dealing with debt problems in Western New York, including Rochester, Canandaigua, Brighton, Pittsford, Penfield, Perinton, Fairport, Webster, Victor, Farmington, Greece, Gates, Hilton, Parma, Brockport, Spencerport, LeRoy, Chili, Churchville, Monroe County, Ontario County, Wayne County, Orleans County, Livingston County, and being harassed by bill collectors, and would like to know more about how bankruptcy may be able to help you, contact me today by phone or email to schedule a FREE initial consultation with a Rochester, NY, bankruptcy lawyer.

Homestead Exemption and Multi-Family Residences in New York

Once in a while, I represent debtors who own a multi-family properties. In the past, the local Rochester rule has been to allocate the homestead exemption solely to the portion of the property that is used as the debtor’s residence.

However, in In re McCarthy; W.D.N.Y. Bk #11-31499, Syracuse Bankruptcy Court Judge Margaret Cangilos-Ruiz has ruled that a bankruptcy debtor can claim a homestead exemption in Chapter 7 bankruptcy on an entire parcel or residential property, even if the debtor only resides in part of the property. In McCarthy, the debtor owned property containing a two family house, both units of which were rented out, and a smaller building in the back where the debtor both worked and lived.  The creditor argued that the homestead exemption should only be allocated to that portion of the lot that is used as the debtor’s residence. The court ruled that the debtor could exempt the entire parcel.

McCarthy in part relied upon an earlier decision of Judge Cangilos-Ruiz, In re Ford, 415 B.R. 51 (Bankr. W.D.N.Y. 2009), aff’d. on appeal, Cmty. Bank, N.A., v. Ford, Civil Case No. 5:09-cv-633 (GLS) (N.D.N.Y Dec. 4, 2009). In Ford, the debtor lived on one parcel, an the septic and well water for the homestead parcel came from an adjoining vacant parcel. The parcel with the residence also included two sheds used by the debtor for both personal and commercial purposes. The court allowed the debtor to apply the homestead exemption to the vacant land parcel as well as the property with the residence.

The McCarthy decision also relied on a decision of Western District of New York Bankruptcy Judge Michael J. Kaplan, In re Rupp, 415 Br.R. 72 (Bankr. W.D.N.Y. 2008).  In Rupp, Judge Kaplan allowed the owner of a two family residence to exempt the entire parcel as a homestead.

McCarthy decision did not address an unpublished 1992 decision of the Hon. Michael A. Telesca, District Court Judge for the Western District of New York in Randall v. Mastowski, CIV-92-6049T. Mastowski was an appeal of a decision by former Rochester Bankruptcy Judge, Hon. Edward D. Hayes, In re Mastowski, 135 B.R. 1 (Bankr. W.D.N.Y. 1992). The debtor in that case owned two double houses, and only lived in one of the four units. Judge Telesca held that the debtor could only claim a homestead exemption “on that part of the property . . . that she occupies as her primary residence.”

In Rupp, Judge Kaplan  acknowledged the Mastowski district court decision, but held that “the binding effect of the decision of a district judge of this district upon all bankruptcy judges of this district depends on whether the district judge published the decision.”

Whether the McCarthy decision will be followed in Rochester by Judge Paul R. Warren is not quite clear at this time.  This issue has not been extensively litigated in the recent years perhaps because New York’s homestead exemption was so limited. Since the homestead exemption has been increased to $75,000 in Western New York, and up to $150,000 elsewhere in the state, I anticipate more litigation involving homestead exemption claims for multi-family properties in the foreseeable future.

If you contemplating filing Chapter 7 Bankruptcy or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, or are dealing with debt problems in Western New York, including Rochester, Canandaigua, Brighton, Pittsford, Penfield, Perinton, Fairport, Webster, Victor, Farmington, Greece, Gates, Hilton, Parma, Brockport, Spencerport, LeRoy, Chili, Churchville, Monroe County, Ontario County, Wayne County, Orleans County, Livingston County, and being harassed by bill collectors, and would like to know more about how bankruptcy may be able to help you, contact me today by phone or email to schedule a FREE initial consultation with a Rochester, NY, bankruptcy lawyer.

Top Five Things Not To Do Before Filing Bankruptcy

Many people try to engage in financial planning once they make a decision to file either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy. While such planning can be helpful, there are many potential dangers for the unwary debtors who do not involve a bankruptcy attorney in this process.  Here is a list of top five things not do since they may cause significant problems in your bankruptcy case.

Number 5: Stop  using credit cards once you decide to file.

In bankruptcy, honesty is the best policy. Using credit cards when you have no intention to repay may result in the debt being nondischargeable, especially where credit cards are being used to purchase luxury goods or for vacations, or cash withdrawals are made. The bankruptcy code gives credit card issuers a number of advantages when credit cards are used just prior to filing bankruptcy. If a creditor decides to file objections, the bankruptcy court may determine that the debt is nondischargeable. Before you use a credit card convenience check, transfer a credit card balance, take a cash advance, or go on a spending spree, debtors should speak with a bankruptcy attorney.

Number 4: Don’t transfer property before filing bankruptcy.

The bankruptcy petition requires that debtors identify all financial transfers made before their bankruptcy filing. Further, during a typical meeting of the creditors, the bankruptcy trustee will usually ask about any transfers, and will ask debtors about transfers of real property made within the last 6 years. The bankruptcy trustee will review any transfers within the last year, and any transfers that violate preference rules can be voided by the trustee. If the transfer is voided, the debtor may lose the right to protect such property, and the recipient of the property will have to return that property to the trustee. Before selling or transferring property, debtors should speak with a bankruptcy attorney.

Number 3: Don’t repay loans to friends or family.

Because of the preference rules, any transactions such as repayment of loans to relatives or  friends can be voided by the bankruptcy trustee as preference. Once the trustee determines that the transaction is a preference, the trustee then can can recover such funds from your family members or friends, and use them to pay your creditors. Before paying back debts owed to family members or friends, debtors should speak with a bankruptcy attorney.

Number 2: Don’t pay more than $600 to one creditor.

Like payments to family members or friends, any payments that exceed $600 and made to any one creditor within 90 days of the bankruptcy filing, can be avoided as a preference. While those payments will be recovered by the trustee from the recipients, it may make more sense to simply not make such payments and preserve the money. Before paying making significant payments to their creditors within 90 days prior to their bankruptcy filing, debtors should speak with a bankruptcy attorney.

Number 1: Don’t cash out retirement plans or 401k plans to pay creditors.

Since retirement plans are fully protected by the Bankruptcy Code, debtors should not withdraw retirement funds to pay creditors. Not only such payments are likely to be voided as preferences, they are also likely to result in taxable consequences to the debtors.  Also, once the money is withdrawn, it may lose its protected status, and it is possible that either the creditors or, eventually, bankruptcy trustee may take it.

The bankruptcy code contains many dangers for the unwary. A bankruptcy attorney can help you avoid these common mistakes. It is always a good idea to engage in bankruptcy planning and discuss your financial situation with a bankruptcy attorney.

If you contemplating filing Chapter 7 Bankruptcy or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, or are dealing with debt problems in Western New York, including Rochester, Canandaigua, Brighton, Pittsford, Penfield, Perinton, Fairport, Webster, Victor, Farmington, Greece, Gates, Hilton, Parma, Brockport, Spencerport, LeRoy, Chili, Churchville, Monroe County, Ontario County, Wayne County, Orleans County, Livingston County, and being harassed by bill collectors, and would like to know more about how bankruptcy may be able to help you, contact me today by phone or email to schedule a FREE initial consultation with a Rochester, NY, bankruptcy lawyer.

Bankruptcy Planning, Debt and 401(k)

Once in a while, I hear from debtors who tells me that they expended all or nearly all of their retirement savings trying to avoid bankruptcy.  Unfortunately, if you spend your retirement funds trying to avoid bankruptcy, you cannot get it back.  If, ultimately, the use of those retirement funds was insufficient to avoid bankruptcy, that money was simply wasted if the debtor still needs to file either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

As I have written previously, 401(k) and most other retirement plans are exempt in bankruptcy. What that means is that if the debtor engaged in some bankruptcy planning and filed bankruptcy before withdrawing retirement funds, the debtor would be able to keep those retirement funds and discharge his or her debts.

I understand why debtors spend their retirement money on debts that would otherwise be dischargeable in bankruptcy. Usually, they want to repay their debts and they will employ any available means to do so. While most debtors are aware of bankruptcy as an option, most debtors try to avoid it.

Since bankruptcy gives you a chance to discharge your debt and protect the assets such as retirement funds, it may be foolish to spend all of your retirement money, and I advise debtors to explore their options before making these decisions.  The most important question that the debtors should ask and answer is whether their necessary and reasonable living expenses and debt payments exceed their take home income on a regular basis. If so, is this going to change because of increased income or decreased expenses in the foreseeable future?

If the debtor is left with a permanent deficit and does not expect it to change, then it does not make sense to withdraw retirement funds to continue to pay down that deficit until there is no retirement money left. The bankruptcy system, both New York and federal exemptions, protects your retirement funds.

If you are contemplating filing Chapter 7 Bankruptcy or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, or are dealing with debt problems in Western New York, including Rochester, New York, Canandaigua, Brighton, Pittsford, Penfield, Perinton, Fairport, Webster, Victor, Farmington, Greece, Gates, Hilton, Parma, Brockport, Spencerport, LeRoy, Chili, Churchville, Monroe County, Ontario County, Wayne County, Orleans County, Livingston County, and being harassed by bill collectors, and would like to know more about how bankruptcy may be able to help you, contact me today by phone or email to schedule a FREE initial consultation with a Rochester, NY, bankruptcy lawyer.

Tax Refunds and Chapter 7 Bankruptcy

It is that time of the year again. Starting in the beginning of the year and until April 15, debtors are filing their federal and New York State income tax returns.  For those debtors who are thinking about filing Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, it is usually a good idea to receive and use their income tax refunds prior to filing for bankruptcy. For those debtors who filed for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy during the past year, it maybe the time to provide copies of their income tax returns to the bankruptcy trustee.

Debtors who filed for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy usually learn during their meeting of the creditors whether the bankruptcy trustee will want to see their income tax returns for the past year. The reason that the bankruptcy trustee will want to see the income returns because it will allow him to figure out what portion of the income tax refunds, if any, is the property of the bankruptcy estate.

Tax refunds are probably the largest single type of asset which debtors lose in bankruptcy.   In New York, the tax refund may protected by your cash exemption up to $2,500, if the bankruptcy was filed prior to January 24, 2011, and up to $6,000, if Chapter 7 Bankruptcy was filed after January 24, 2011, and if you are not claiming a homestead exemption.

The trustees’ goal is to see whether or not  a portion of the income tax refund can be pro rated from the beginning of the year to the date of filing bankruptcy. If this prorated portion of the income tax refund is large enough, the trustee may make a demand that a portion fo the refund be turned over to the trustee. If only one spouse is filing for bankruptcy, and they file a joint tax return, Rochester Chapter 7 trustees usually take position that one half of the refund belongs to the trustee, subject to the applicable exemption.

It is important to disclose the tax refund to your lawyer and the bankruptcy trustee, since a bankruptcy trustee can simply write to the Internal Revenue Service and have it send the tax refund directly to the trustee, and a deliberate failure to disclose information can be a basis for a denial of discharge. Some of the Rochester bankruptcy trustees will ask debtors to sign a stipulation at the meeting of the creditors, requiring the debtors to provide copies of their income tax returns as well as a portion or all of the income tax refunds to the trustee. If debtors fail to do so, their bankruptcy discharge may be revoked.

If you contemplating filing Chapter 7 Bankruptcy or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, or are dealing with debt problems in Western New York, including Rochester, Canandaigua, Brighton, Pittsford, Penfield, Perinton, Fairport, Webster, Victor, Farmington, Greece, Gates, Hilton, Parma, Brockport, Spencerport, LeRoy, Chili, Churchville, Monroe County, Ontario County, Wayne County, Orleans County, Livingston County, and being harassed by bill collectors, and would like to know more about how bankruptcy may be able to help you, contact me today by phone or email to schedule a FREE initial consultation with a Rochester, NY, bankruptcy lawyer.

Under the New Law, Federal Bankruptcy Exemptions Are Available In New York

As I have written previously, the new exemption law permits New York residents to choose between the New York exemption statutes and the Federal Exemption that are set forth in Section 522(d) of the Bankruptcy Code.

The federal exemptions have never been available to debtors filing Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 Bankruptcy in New York before because New York chose to opt out of the federal exemptions statute in the past.

The federal exemptions have different provisions that may be more favorable for individual debtors than New York’s statutory exemptions. They may allow debtors and their bankruptcy attorneys to protect certain assets that may not be available under New York’s statutory exemptions, provided that debtors do not need to take advantage of their homestead exemption.

The federal exemptions contain a “wild card” exemption that enables consumers to protect a substantial amount of cash, well in excess of New York’s statutory limit.

Specifically, the federal exemptions are as follows:

(1) The debtor’s aggregate interest, not to exceed $21,625 in value, in real property or personal property that the debtor or a dependent of the debtor uses as a residence, in a cooperative that owns property that the debtor or a dependent of the debtor uses as a residence, or in a burial plot for the debtor or a dependent of the debtor.

(2) The debtor’s interest, not to exceed $3,450 in value, in one motor vehicle.

(3) The debtor’s interest, not to exceed $550 in value in any particular item or $11,525 in aggregate value, in household furnishings, household goods, wearing apparel, appliances, books, animals, crops, or musical instruments, that are held primarily for the personal, family, or household use of the debtor or a dependent of the debtor.

(4) The debtor’s aggregate interest, not to exceed $1,450 in value, in jewelry held primarily for the personal, family, or household use of the debtor or a dependent of the debtor.

(5) The debtor’s aggregate interest in any property, not to exceed in value $1,150 plus up to $10,825 of any unused amount of the exemption provided under paragraph (1) of this subsection.

(6) The debtor’s aggregate interest, not to exceed $2,175 in value, in any implements, professional books, or tools, of the trade of the debtor or the trade of a dependent of the debtor.

(7) Any unmatured life insurance contract owned by the debtor, other than a credit life insurance contract.

(8) The debtor’s aggregate interest, not to exceed in value $11,525 less any amount of property of the estate transferred in the manner specified in section 542(d) of this title, in any accrued dividend or interest under, or loan value of, any unmatured life insurance contract owned by the debtor under which the insured is the debtor or an individual of whom the debtor is a dependent.

(9) Professionally prescribed health aids for the debtor or a dependent of the debtor.

(10) The debtor’s right to receive–

(A) a social security benefit, unemployment compensation, or a local public assistance benefit;

(B) a veterans’ benefit;

(C) a disability, illness, or unemployment benefit;

(D) alimony, support, or separate maintenance, to the extent reasonably necessary for the support of the debtor and any dependent of the debtor;

(E) a payment under a stock bonus, pension, profitsharing, annuity, or similar plan or contract on account of illness, disability, death, age, or length of service, to the extent reasonably necessary for the support of the debtor and any dependent of the debtor, unless–

(i) such plan or contract was established by or under the auspices of an insider that employed the debtor at the time the debtor’s rights under such plan or contract arose;

(ii) such payment is on account of age or length of service; and

(iii) such plan or contract does not qualify under section 401(a), 403(a), 403(b), or 408 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986.

(11) The debtor’s right to receive, or property that is traceable to–

(A) an award under a crime victim’s reparation law;

(B) a payment on account of the wrongful death of an individual of whom the debtor was a dependent, to the extent reasonably necessary for the support of the debtor and any dependent of the debtor;

(C) a payment under a life insurance contract that insured the life of an individual of whom the debtor was a dependent on the date of such individual’s death, to the extent reasonably necessary for the support of the debtor and any dependent of the debtor;

(D) a payment, not to exceed $21,625, on account of personal bodily injury, not including pain and suffering or compensation for actual pecuniary loss, of the debtor or an individual of whom the debtor is a dependent; or

(E) a payment in compensation of loss of future earnings of the debtor or an individual of whom the debtor is or was a dependent, to the extent reasonably necessary for the support of the debtor and any dependent of the debtor.

(12) Retirement funds to the extent that those funds are in a fund or account that is exempt from taxation under section 401, 403, 408, 408A, 414, 457, or 501(a) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986.

Here is an example of how a typical debtor may benefit from using Federal exemptions. If debtor owns a motor vehicle that has $6,000.00 in equity, under the New York exemptions, debtor can only protect $4,000.00 of that equity (plus the New York wildcard exemption, if available). However, if debtor uses the Federal Exemptions, debtor can COMBINE the wildcard exemption with the standard Federal auto exemption of $3,450.00, and use an additional $2,550.00 of the wildcard exemption to protect the remaining equity in that vehicle. As long as debtors do not need to use homestead exemption in excess of the Federal Homestead Exemption of $21,625.00, debtors are likely to benefit from the Federal Exemptions.

If you are contemplating filing Chapter 7 Bankruptcy or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, or are dealing with debt problems in Western New York, including Rochester, New York, Canandaigua, Brighton, Pittsford, Penfield, Perinton, Fairport, Webster, Victor, Farmington, Greece, Gates, Hilton, Parma, Brockport, Spencerport, LeRoy, Chili, Churchville, Monroe County, Ontario County, Wayne County, Orleans County, Livingston County, and being harassed by bill collectors, and would like to know more about how bankruptcy may be able to help you, contact me today by phone or email to schedule a FREE initial consultation with a Rochester, NY, bankruptcy lawyer.

Changes to New York’s Bankruptcy Exemptions

Back in July I have written about a pending bill which would have changed New York’s bankruptcy exemptions and allowed debtors to use the current federal exemptions or the exemptions in New York Law. At the time, it was impossible to predict whether the bill would ever become law.

On December 23, 2010, the bill was signed into law and will become effective in 30 days. This is the biggest change in New York’s bankruptcy exemptions in years, and will make a tremendous impact on the debtors filing both Chapter 7 Bankruptcy and Chapter 13 Bankruptcy.

Homestead Exemption Increases to $75,000 per person for those in Rochester and Western New York

Right now each homeowner can protect only $50,000 worth of equity in a house. However, for those living in Rochester and Western New York Counties, that amount will increase to $75,000. Since a married couple can combine their exemptions, that means that a couple will be able to protect a$150,000 worth of equity in their home.

This will enable almost any typical Rochester middle class family to file bankruptcy to eliminate their credit card debts while protecting their home. In my Rochester, New York, bankruptcy practice, I periodically meet with homeowners who are forced to file for Chapter 13 Bankruptcy instead of Chapter 7 Bankruptcy because they have too much equity in their homes.  Now, almost everyone will be able to seek Chapter 7 Bankruptcy relief and keep and protect their homes.

Amounts for Almost All Other New York’s Exemptions Categories Are Being Increased and New Categories Are Being Added

The new law also increases the exemptions for many other assets such as cars, and adds some new categories like home computers and vehicles for the handicapped.

Comparison of New York’s Old and New, 2011 Bankruptcy Exemption Statutes

Existing New York State Bankruptcy Exemptions NEW New York State Bankruptcy Exemptions
Homestead Exemption (note:  this can be combined for married couples filing jointly, who own the real estate together)

$50,000

Homestead Exemption (note:  this can be combined for married couples filing jointly, who own the real estate together)

$150,000 for property in the downstate New York (Counties of Nassau, Suffolk, Kings, Queens, Bronx, Richmond, Rockland, Westchester and Putnam)

$125,000 for property in the Counties of Dutchess, Albany, Columbia, Orange, Saratoga and Ulster

$75,000 for all other counties

Motor Vehicle

$2,400

Motor Vehicle

$4,000

Motor Vehicle equipped for use by a disabled person (new category)

$10,000

Cash Exemption if Homestead Exemption is taken

None

Cash Exemption if Homestead Exemption is taken

$1,000.   (Note:  New exemption.  Can also be used for personal property.   However, the Federal Exemption is much greater and allows debtors to protect much more in appropriate situations.)

Jewelry and Art

a wedding ring

a watch worth up to $35

Jewelry and Art

a wedding ring

a watch, jewelry and art worth up to a total of $1,000 (Notes:  New exemption.  This will make it much more difficult for trustees to seek payment for engagement rings)

Tools of Trade  (these are the working tools and implements that are necessary to carry on one’s business)

$600

Tools of Trade  (these are the working tools and implements that are necessary to carry on one’s business)

$3,000

Aggregate Individual Bankruptcy Exemption for Cash, Household Goods and Clothing

$5,000

Aggregate Individual Bankruptcy Exemption for Cash, Household Goods and Clothing

$10,000

The New and Increased Exemptions Will Benefit Future Bankruptcy Debtors

Not only will more consumers be able to file for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, but it will also help those debtors filing Chapter 13 Bankruptcy since they may be paying substantially less through their monthly Chapter 13 plan. In addition, existing Chapter 13 Bankruptcy debtors may be able to convert their cases to Chapter 7 and eliminate all future monthly payments.


I have attached a copy of the actual bill here.

If you are contemplating filing Chapter 7 Bankruptcy or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, or are dealing with debt problems in Western New York, including Rochester, New York, Canandaigua, Brighton, Pittsford, Penfield, Perinton, Fairport, Webster, Victor, Farmington, Greece, Gates, Hilton, Parma, Brockport, Spencerport, LeRoy, Chili, Churchville, Monroe County, Ontario County, Wayne County, Orleans County, Livingston County, and being harassed by bill collectors, and would like to know more about how bankruptcy may be able to help you, contact me today by phone or email to schedule a FREE initial consultation with a Rochester, NY, bankruptcy lawyer.