When the sheriff arrives at your employer,
or your bank,
or your business
with a levy for your money, you need good information fast.
You need to know NOW, and FOR CERTAIN, what part of your assets are protected by an exemption under California law.
You keep exempt assets
Exemptions define the property that you can keep even when you owe money or have a judgment against you.
Exemptions keep debtors from being stripped of everything they own.
Exemptions are measured in dollars: $X of equity in a car, for example, is exempt.
To be meaningful, those dollar amounts change over time and with new legislation.
Yet my Google search this morning returned in first place the exemption amounts for 2005.
In fact, all but one of the first page results returned by Google on a search for “California exemptions” was outdated.
The 2016 edition of California exemptions, available in bankruptcy and in state law collections, are found, largely, in the California Code of Civil Procedure, starting with Section 704.
The dollar amount of most California exemptions are adjusted every three years.
But most of the online versions of the CCP are several years behind the times. Look in the statutes and you are likely to get stale information.
The Judicial Council form is the only reliable online source of the dollar amounts in effect today.
Surprisingly, the state form also lists the exemptions available in a bankruptcy case filed in California. Those exemptions start in the Code of Civil Procedure at Section 703.140.
In a bankruptcy case, the debtor, the person who owes debts, can choose between the two different exemption sets.
You have to choose one, or the other. You can’t take one from this column, and another from the other list.
In bankruptcy, the debtor also gets the benefit of exemptions in federal law other than the exemptions in the Bankruptcy Code.
Outside of bankruptcy, only the CCP 704 series of exemptions are available.
In a California collection action Form EJ-156 must be delivered to a judgment debtor any time there is action to enforce a judgment. With the list and amount of assets that can be protected by an exemption comes a form for claiming an exemption.
Exemptions are not self-executing. You have to claim the exemption to get its benefit.
Complete the form (the link above takes you to a fillable pdf form) and return it to the levying officer. It does not get filed with the court.
The levying officer’s contact information is on the writ of execution.
If the judgment creditor opposes the claim of exemption, a hearing before the court will be scheduled.
Researching law on the internet
My experience in looking for the current dollar amounts of exemptions should highlight the complexity and the danger of relying on DIY research on the law.
The first list of exemptions I found via Google was 10 years out of date.
And more than any other aspect of bankruptcy law, people who represent themselves in bankruptcy screw up the claims of exemption.
Even the petition preparers, who take your money to “fill out the forms”, often botch claims of exemption.
Proceed by yourself with caution and with attention to the “use by” date on the law.
Image courtesy of Clement127.