September 25, 2017
If you file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Florida, you can use the Florida exemptions to keep some or all of your property. The Florida bankruptcy exemptions also play a role in Chapter 13 bankruptcy; they impact how much you must repay creditors through your Chapter 13 plan.
(To learn more about how exemptions work in Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy, see our Bankruptcy Exemptions area.)
Although the bankruptcy code has a list of federal bankruptcy exemptions, states decide whether their residents can use them. Florida, like many other states, doesn't allow residents to use the federal bankruptcy exemptions; it requires its residents to use the Florida exemptions in bankruptcy.
Florida’s bankruptcy exemptions are quite favorable to its residents and include unlimited exemptions for homestead, annuities, and the cash surrender value of a life insurance policy.
To use Florida’s exemptions, you must be domiciled in Florida for at least 730 days before filing your bankruptcy petition. If you were not living in any one state during the two-year period before filing for bankruptcy, you'd use the exemptions of the state you lived in for most of the 180-day period prior to the two-year period that immediately preceded your filing. (To learn more, see Which Exemptions Can I Use?)
Florida has one of the most generous homestead exemptions in the country. You can exempt an unlimited amount of value in your home or other property covered by the homestead exemption. However, the property cannot be larger than half an acre in a municipality or 160 acres elsewhere.
To claim the full value of the homestead exemption in Florida, you must have owned the property for at least 1,215 days before the bankruptcy filing. If you can't meet this requirement, your homestead exemption is limited by federal law. (To learn more about this requirement and the current amount of the federal cap, see The Homestead Exemption.)
The following categories of personal property (anything other than real estate) are exempt:
You can exempt up to $1,000 in motor vehicle equity, more if you are married and filing jointly. For details, see The Florida Motor Vehicle Exemption in Bankruptcy.
Wages of a head of the family are entirely exempt up to $750 per week, or the greater of 75% or 30 times the federal minimum wage. This applies to paid and unpaid wages and wages deposited in a bank account during the last six months. (Fla. Stat. Ann. § 222.11.) Earnings of a person other than the head of the family are protected as follows: 75% or 30 times the federal minimum wage, whichever is greater.
Federal government employees’ pension payments that are needed for support and were received up to three months before the bankruptcy. (Fla. Stat. Ann. § 222.21.)
A debtor may claim up to $4,000 of personal property as exempt if the debtor does not use the homestead exemption. (Fla. Stat. Ann. § 222.25.)
The following types of pensions and retirement funds are exempt in Florida:
Although Florida opted-out of the federal bankruptcy exemption scheme, Section 222.201 allows the federal exemptions listed under Section 522(d)(10) of the Bankruptcy Code. These exemptions include veterans benefits, social security benefits, reemployment assistance, and local public assistance benefits. (Fla. Stat. Ann. § 222.201)
Workers compensation and unemployment compensation benefits are exempt. (Fl. Stat. §§ 222.201, 443.052, 440.22.)
Crime victims’ compensation benefits are exempt unless the debtor is seeking to discharge debt for treatment of a related injury. (Fla. Stat. Ann. § 960.14.)
Alimony and child support, to the extent reasonably necessary for the support of the debtor (the bankruptcy filer) and any dependent of the Debtor, are exempt. (Fla. Stat. Ann. § 222.201.)
You can exempt the following:
Damages (money) for an employee’s injuries or death that occurred while working in a hazardous occupation are exempt. (Fla. Stat. Ann. § 769.05.) However, any other proceeds you received (or might receive) from a lawsuit or pending legal claim belongs to the bankruptcy estate and you’ll have to use another exemption, such as the wildcard exemption, to protect the recovery.
Also, if you haven’t resolved the lawsuit when you file for bankruptcy, the bankruptcy trustee can decide whether to retain an attorney and proceed on your behalf. The trustee will then decide whether to settle the case or proceed to trial.
Example. In your paperwork, you disclose the minor rear-end accident you were involved in six months before. Even though you weren’t at fault, you didn’t bother pursuing it because your injuries resolved quickly. Even so, the bankruptcy trustee has the option of pursuing the claim on your behalf with the at-fault driver’s insurance company.
Above we've listed the most commonly used exemptions in Florida. There may be other exemptions that apply to your situation. To find the full list, you should review the Florida Statutes, the Florida Constitution, and the Bankruptcy Code. Or, talk to a local bankruptcy attorney. You can find one through Nolo's Florida Bankruptcy Lawyer Directory.