The increase in exemptions available in New Jersey to protect the equity in your home has made it easier to keep your home in a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy. As of April 1, 2019 the exemption a home owner is allowed under federal exemptions, which are used in New Jersey, increased to $25,150.00 per home owner. For example, if you and your spouse own a home in, say, Cherry Hill, NJ or Voorhees, NJ and the home is worth $200,000.00 and there is a mortgage of $130,000.00 you would be able to file a chapter 7 and keep your home as long as you are able to continue making your mortgage payments and as long as you meet the other chapter 7 eligibility requirements such as those relating to income. That is because there would be no reason for a trustee to sell your home since there would be no benefit to your creditors. If a trustee sold the home in this example, the trustee would have realtor and other fees of about $20,000.00, the mortgage of $130,000.00 and you and your spouse could protect from creditors a total of $50,300.00. Consequently, if you are in need of a bankruptcy but are concerned you will lose your home, you should immediately consult with an experienced bankruptcy attorney
Chapter 13 bankruptcy is a great way to save your home by paying arrearages on a mortgage over time or to pay back unpaid taxes. But Chapter 13 has debt limits. As of April 1, 2016 a debtor cannot file Chapter 13 bankruptcy if they have more than $394,725.00 in unsecured debt or more than $1,184,200.00 in secured debt. Personal guarantees from a failed business, student loans and IRS debt can put an individual in this debt limit dilemma. What options do they have? There are several. A couple in Cherry Hill New Jersey could not file a joint Chapter 13 bankruptcy to save their home because each owed significant student loans. However, individually their total was less than the unsecured debt limit so each filed a separate Chapter 13 to save their home and address their debt. An individual from Mount Laurel New Jersey needing to pay mortgage arrears was unable to file Chapter 13 because of debt left over from a failed business. In his case, an individual Chapter 11 bankruptcy was filed to save his home. Filing a Chapter 7 and doing a modification helped an individual from Voorhees, NJ save his home when he was over the debt limit. Even with high debt limits options exist to deal with debt so meeting with an experienced bankruptcy attorney is an important step in finding a solution.
What happens when a life estate is involved in a bankruptcy. First, a life estate is created in order to provide an individual with a right to remain in a property for the remainder of their life. For example in a will an individual can give his wife a life estate and give the remainder interest to his child. The child is the owner of the property except the mother has the right to remain in the property for the rest of her life. What happens if the child files for bankruptcy. In a bankruptcy a debtor filing bankruptcy can protect a certain amount of equity. If the equity exceeds the value of the exemption in the property then a trustee in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy could sell the property and use the money in excess of exemptions to pay creditors. Or the debtor can file a Chapter 13 and pay creditors an amount equal to the nonexempt equity. For example, if the home in question is worth $100,000 and there is a $25,000 mortgage against the property and the individual lives in, say, Voorhees New Jersey where the New Jersey exemption allows the individual to protect approximately $24,000 in equity in his home, is there $50,000 in equity in the property. The real question is would a willing buyer pay $100,000 for a property which would otherwise be worth $100,000 except for the fact that whoever buys the property has to allow the mother to remain in the property until she passes away. In the Chapter 13, rather than selling the property the debtor could pay creditors an amount equal to the value of the property. However, establishing the value can be problematic. Some trustees and courts will look at actuarial tables to determine how long the person with the life estate is expected to live. Often the value could be negotiated between the debtor's attorney and the trustee but certainly an experienced attorney would be needed to assist in a circumstance like this and one should be consulted to discuss the impact of any life estate issues in the bankruptcy.