Wednesday, May 20, 2015
Exemption of Personal Property in Florida
In the case of Guillermo A. Morales, Case No. 07-16284-BKC-RBR, (Bankr.S.D.Fla. January 2, 2008)(Ray, J.) the Bankruptcy Court was given the opportunity to interpret new section 222.25(4), Florida Statutes which allows a debtor to exempt personal property not to exceed $4,000 if he does not "claim or receive the benefits of a homestead exemption under s. 4, Art. X of the State Constitution." Based on the particular facts of the case, the Court held that the debtor had not proven that he had not received the "benefits" of the homestead exemption and the trustee's objection to the debtor's exemption under section 222.25(4), Florida Statutes was sustained. But the court did state that if a debtor properly abandons his entire interest in his homestead at the start of a case or and does not claim his homestead exemption or does so by proper subsequent schedule amendments, then he would be able to claim the $4,000 section 222.25(4) personal property exemption.
In his chapter 7 schedules, the debtor listed one piece of real property with two mortgages. He did not claim the real property as exempt in his schedule C. In his original statement of intentions, the debtor set forth his intentions to reaffirm the two mortgages. Later he filed an amended statement of intentions where he indicated that his intentions were to surrender the real property to one of the mortgagees and reaffirm [sic] the other mortgage. The debtor claimed the use the $4000 personal property exemption under section 222.25(4), Florida Statutes (2007) and the trustee filed an objection to this claim of exemption.
The issue before the court was the meaning of section 222.25(4)'s phrase "receive the benefits of a homestead exemption." The trustee argued that the debtor was not eligible for the section 222.25(4) exemption as by owning a homestead, the debtor receives the benefit of the homestead exemption whether or not he makes use of it. The debtor contended that he had abandoned his interest in the real property, had not claimed it as exempt in his schedule C, and was not receiving any "benefits" of a homestead exemption.
The court looked to the language of the statute and found that it was written in the present tense. The court stated that the fact that a "debtor may have claimed or received the benefits of a homestead exemption in the past would appear to have no bearing on the application of the statute to a debtor's present situation." The court reasoned that even if a debtor had in the past received the benefits of the homestead exemption, he would qualify for the $4,000 section 222.25(4) personal property exemption if he does not claim it [the real property] as exempt and ceases to receive the benefits of a homestead exemption.
The court noted that in this case, that although debtor did not claim the homestead exemption, it was not clear whether he had derived any "benefits" from the exemption. The debtor argued that his amended statement of intentions to surrender the real property constituted an "abandonment" of the real property and that he was no longer receiving any "benefit" of the homestead exemption.
The court stated that the debtor was correct in his statement that under Florida law, abandonment of a homestead is one way that the protection of the homestead exemption may be lost. However, the court concluded that the debtor had failed to clearly indicate his intention with respect to the real property and that the court could not conclude that he had abandoned his homestead. The court noted that at the beginning of the case, the debtor had filed a statement of intentions indicating his intention to reaffirm the mortgages and retain the real property. The debtor only later changed his mind. The court also found "incompatible" with an abandonment the debtor's stated intention in his amended statement of intentions to surrender the real property to only one of the two mortgage holders and reaffirm the debt owed to the other mortgage holder.
Although the court failed to find an abandonment of the homestead in this case which led to the court's denial of the debtor's claim of exemption under section 222.25(4), the court stated that if a debtor "properly abandons his entire interest in his homestead at the start of a case and does not claim his homestead exemption" then he would be able to claim the $4,000 section 222.25(4) personal property exemption. The court even left open the possibility of a subsequent amendment of the debtor's schedules to indicate an abandonment of all interest in his homestead and to claim the $4,000 section 222.25(4) personal property exemptions.
In this case, the court found that the debtor failed to clearly indicate his intentions with respect to the real property and was denied use of the section 222.25(4) exemptions. Since the rendering of the court's decision, the debtor filed an amended statement of intentions setting forth a surrender to both mortgagees and has moved the court for a rehearing. In his motion for rehearing, the debtor refers to this amended statement of intention and points out that he did not oppose the motion for stay relief filed by one of the mortgagees.
Miami Miami, FL, USA