Can I keep my jewelry if I file for bankruptcy in West Virginia?

You can keep up to $1,000 of your jewelry in a West Virginia bankruptcy; more if you don’t have a home to protect.

If you file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in West Virginia, the West Virginia bankruptcy exemptions allow you to protect up to $1,000 of your jewelry, including rings, bracelets, necklaces, earrings, and other items. You can also apply West Virginia’s $800 wildcard exemption to jewelry. And if you don’t use the homestead exemption, you can protect another $25,000 worth of jewelry and other property.

Keeping Jewelry in Chapter 13 Bankruptcy in West Virginia

In Chapter 13 bankruptcy, often called a reorganization bankruptcy, you enter into a repayment plan for three to five years. Your creditors get paid through the plan – some in full and some in part. Although a Chapter 13 plan requires a long commitment, the advantage is that you get to keep your property, including jewelry. 

If you have very expensive jewelry however, that will probably affect how much you will be required to repay unsecured creditors.

Keeping Jewelry in Chapter 7 Bankruptcy in West Virginia

Chapter 7 bankruptcy works differently. In Chapter 7, you must give up certain items of property. The bankruptcy trustee sells this property and uses the proceeds to repay (at least in part) your unsecured creditors.

West Virginia Bankruptcy Exemptions

Not all of your property is up for grabs, however. West Virginia (and all of the other states) has enacted laws that protect certain types of property. These laws are called exemptions. Some property is exempt no matter what the value, and other property is exempt only up to a dollar amount. The idea behind exemptions is that someone filing for bankruptcy should not be stripped of basic things needed for living – like shelter, clothing, furniture, a car, and the like. (Learn more about how bankruptcy exemptions work.)

Some states allow you to choose between the state exemption system and another set, called the federal bankruptcy exemptions. But West Virginia is not one of these states. If you file for bankruptcy in West Virginia, you must use the West Virginia bankruptcy exemptions.

Using the West Virginia Bankruptcy Exemptions to Keep Jewelry

In West Virginia, you can keep some or all of your jewelry using the below exemptions. If you are married and filing a joint bankruptcy, you can double these amounts.

Jewelry exemption.  If you file for bankruptcy in West Virginia, you can keep jewelry up to a total combined value of $1,000. W. Va. Code Ann. § 38-10-4(d).

Personal property exemption. West Virginia also allows you to keep the following property, up to $400 per item and to a combined total value of $8,000:  wearing apparel, animals, crops, appliances, books, household goods, furnishings, and musical instruments. W. Va. Code Ann. § 38-10-4(a).

Some bankruptcy courts in other states have ruled that similar wearing apparel exemptions include watches. It’s possible you could exempt a watch or another item of jewelry using the West Virginia wearing apparel exemption, although it’s also possible that a court would rule otherwise, since West Virginia already provides a separate exemption for jewelry. Check with a local bankruptcy attorney.

Wildcard exemption. West Virginia has two wildcard exemptions which you can apply to any type of personal property, including jewelry.

  • $800, and
  • any unused portion of the homestead exemption (the West Virginia homestead exemption, which you use to protect equity in your home, is $25,000). W. Va. Code Ann. § 38-10-4(e).

If you don’t have a home to protect in bankruptcy, then you can protect quite a bit of your jewelry. Keep in mind, however, that these wildcard exemptions can be used to protect other property as well. So if you decide to apply $10,000 towards your motor boat, for example, you’ll only have $15,000 left for other items.

How to Value Jewelry in Bankruptcy

The value of your jewelry for exemption purposes is the amount you would have to pay to replace each item with a used item of similar age and in similar condition.  There are various methods of determining the replacement value, but for expensive jewelry you will almost always need an appraisal. (Learn more about how to value personal property in bankruptcy.)

Other Ways to Keep Jewelry in a West Virginia Bankruptcy

If you want to keep nonexempt items of jewelry, the trustee may accept other items of exempt property in exchange for the jewelry. The trustee would then sell these items instead of your jewelry to repay your creditors.

Similarly, if you have some cash, you may be able to reimburse the bankruptcy trustee for the value of the jewelry you want to keep. Again, the trustee would use this money (instead of selling the jewelry) to repay unsecured creditors.

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