A common way for a creditor to collect a debt is to sue the debtor and obtain a judgment against him or her. But what if the debtor is judgment proof?
A judgment is a court order stating that the debtor is liable to the creditor for a specific amount of money. The creditor then will attempt to enforce the judgment against the debtor, which it can do in various ways. However, in some cases, the debtor is judgment proof, making it impossible for the creditor to collect its judgment.
You can rely on a Florida asset protection lawyer at Kramer Green to work diligently to protect your assets from creditors to the greatest extent possible. We will work with you to find the best ways to shelter assets from creditors so you can keep the wealth you have earned.
Understanding Judgment Proof Status
Well before the event that gave rise to liability, you may wish to utilize asset protection planning to become judgment proof. In other words, you want to ensure the creditor cannot collect the judgment from your assets or income.
Engaging in Legal Asset Protection Strategies
You can make it difficult for a creditor to collect on its judgment by engaging in asset protection strategies tailored toward your assets and income. Doing so may increase your bargaining power to settle the judgment debt with the creditor for an amount that is less than what you owe.
Fortunately, some common Florida asset protection strategies can shelter many of your assets from collection efforts by judgment creditors. For instance, Article X, Sec. 4(a)(1) of the Florida Constitution creates a constitutional right for Florida residents to their permanent residence, constituting up to ½ acre within a municipality and up to 160 acres outside a municipality, free from levy and execution by most judgment creditors.
However, the homestead exemption does not extend to personal property within your homestead. Your bank accounts, safe deposit boxes, and vehicles are among the personal property items that a creditor may attempt to seize to collect upon a judgment. A creditor can identify specific items of non-exempt personal property you own and get an order from the court to seize those items, with the sheriff’s assistance, if necessary. As a result, you must take other steps to protect these assets from the reach of creditors.
First, some exemptions do apply to different items of personal property. For example, you are entitled to an exemption of up to $1,000 for vehicles. As a practical matter, if you have financed a vehicle with a loan, creditors typically will not execute on the vehicle, as the vehicle loan is a first-priority lien that will take precedence over the judgment lien. You also can claim up to $1,000 for personal property if you are claiming the homestead exemption or $4,000 if you are not claiming the homestead exemption.
Since these exemption amounts are quite low, they are likely insufficient to protect your personal property from levy and execution to satisfy a judgment. Therefore, you must look to other asset protection strategies to protect them from creditors. For instance, if you are the head of the household providing more than half of another person’s support, your income is not garnishable (unless you have otherwise agreed in writing) to satisfy a judgment. Furthermore, if your checking account contains only your exempt head of household income from your employment, the funds in your bank account also are exempt for up to six months. Finally, Florida Courts have taken a dim view to owner-employees claiming distributions from their business are exempt wages.
On the other hand, if you own a business, you must take other steps to protect your assets from personal creditors. For example, your business should be an LLC, corporation, or other business entity that can hold title to the business assets to protect them from the reach of your personal creditors. This type of protection works both ways. Using a business entity to hold your business’s assets also ensures creditors with a judgment against your business usually cannot reach your personal assets to satisfy the judgment.
Contact Our Office Today for Your Asset Protection Needs
The asset protection attorneys of Kramer, Green, Zuckerman, Greene & Buchsbaum, P.A. are ready to assist you in protecting your income and assets from the reach of judgment creditors. We know how hard you have worked to acquire your assets over time and want to help you preserve them.
As a result, our objective is to take all actions necessary to protect your wealth for your and your family’s benefit. Contact our office today at (954) 966-2112 or reach out to us online to schedule a time to discuss your legal issues with our attorneys.