Can I keep my jewelry if I file for bankruptcy in Wisconsin?

You can keep a certain dollar amount of your jewelry in a Wisconsin bankruptcy; how much depends on a number of factors including whether you use the federal or Wisconsin bankruptcy exemptions.

Whether you can keep wedding rings, watches, necklaces, and other jewelry in Wisconsin depends on what type of bankruptcy you file (Chapter 7 or Chapter 13), whether you use the Wisconsin or federal bankruptcy exemptions, how much the jewelry is worth, and whether you need to protect other assets as well.

Keeping Jewelry in Chapter 13 Bankruptcy in the Wisconsin

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 Wisconsin

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.

Wisconsin Bankruptcy Exemptions

Not all of your property is up for grabs, however. The Wisconsin 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.)

In Wisconsin, you can choose to use either the Wisconsin bankruptcy exemptions or another set of exemptions called the federal bankruptcy exemptions (17 states plus Washington D.C. also allow you to use the federal exemptions). Whichever set you choose, you must stick with it -- you cannot mix and match from each set. For this reason, it’s important to review all of the exemptions in each system. You wouldn’t want to pick one system in order to keep jewelry, only to lose your house. (Review the Wisconsin bankruptcy exemptions and the federal bankruptcy exemptions.)

Keeping Jewelry If You Use the Federal Bankruptcy Exemptions

There are several provisions of the federal bankruptcy exemption system that you can use to keep your jewelry. If you are married and filing a joint bankruptcy petition you can double these amounts.

  • Jewelry exemption. You can keep up to $1,550 of your jewelry.
  • Wildcard exemption. You can keep up to $1,225 of any type of property, including your jewelry. If you don’t want to use the wildcard to protect other property, you can put the full $1,225 towards your jewelry.
  • Unused homestead exemption.  If you don’t use the homestead exemption, or only use part of it, you can use up to $11,500 of the remaining amount for anything you want, including your jewelry. The federal homestead exemption is $22,975.

Keeping Jewelry If You Use the Wisconsin Bankruptcy Exemptions 

Wisconsin has a general exemption for consumer goods that includes jewelry. Specifically, you can protect up to $12,000 of the following items: jewelry, household goods and furnishings, clothing, keepsakes, appliances, books, musical instruments, firearms, sporting goods, animals, and other tangible property items. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 815.18(3)(d).

The $12,000 cap applies to all items combined. So you may have to pick and choose which items to keep if the value of your personal property is greater than $12,000. For example, if you choose to keep a $10,000 piano, you’ll have $2,000 left for everything else. Wisconsin does have a separate exemption for motor vehicles (up to $4,000), however, so you don’t need to lump your car equity into the $12,000 total, unless your car equity is more than $4,000 and you want to use some of the consumer goods exemption to protect it.

And, as with the federal bankruptcy exemptions, if you are married and filing a joint bankruptcy petition, you can double this amount. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 815.18(8).

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 Wisconsin 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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