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State Exemptions in Massachusetts Modernized (at last)

In Massachusetts, unlike many other states, we are allowed to choose either the “menu” of exemptions provided for in the Bankruptcy Code (the “Federal Exemptions”), or the non-bankruptcy menu of exemptions – most of which arise under state law (the “Massachusetts Exemptions”).  A large part of my job as a consumer bankruptcy attorney is to maximize exemptions for my clients.  Generally, that has meant doing everything I could to steer my clients to the Federal Exemptions, instead of the Massachusetts Exemptions.  The reason is clear, the Federal Exemptions are, as a general rule, much more liberal, and allow most debtors to keep a great deal more of the things they need to survive, than do the Massachusetts Exemptions.  As I have discussed previously, the point of exemptions are to allow a debtor (either in or out of bankruptcy) to keep enough property to survive.   While Massachusetts has one of the more liberal Homestead Exemption (the exemption which protects equity in your residence), the exemptions for personal property were abysmal.  For instance, the current state of the law in Massachusetts allows a debtor to protect up to $500,000 of equity from creditors or the bankruptcy estate in her residence, but only $700 of equity in a car!  By comparison, the Federal Exemptions provide for a weak homestead exemption ($21,625 for a single filer, or $43,250 for a married couple); while offering a far stronger exemption for person property –such as the $3,450 of automobile equity (or $6,900 for a married couple) that can be protected from the bankruptcy estate.  For some filers this has meant either losing the home, or losing the car (which can often mean losing the job that allows the debtor to pay for the home).

For further evidence that the Massachusetts Exemptions were outdated, we can look at the provision for money for utilities (telephone, electricity, heat) of $75, while making sure to protect 2 cows, 12 sheep, 2 swine, 4 tons of hay and 1 pew for religious purposes.  Thankfully, the Massachusetts Legislature recently looked at the calendar and determined that it is no longer 1900 (and listened to the pleadings from bankruptcy attorneys and other consumer advocates) and passed an update to the personal exemptions available to debtors in and out of bankruptcy (S.2557).   On January 9, 2011, Governor Patrick signed S.2557 into law.  The new legislation will become effective on April 7, 2011 and will amend Massachusetts General Laws ch. 235, § 34 and ch. 246, §28.  Below is a partial list of some of the more important changes to the Massachusetts Exemptions.  But, fear not, the exemptions for cows, sheep, swine, hay and a pew remain unchanged.

Property Current Effective April 7th
Automobile $700 $7,500*
Money for utilities $75 $500
Furniture $3,000 $15,000
Tools $500 $15,000
“Provisions for Family” $300 $600
Stock in Trade $500 $5,000
One Computer None No dollar limit
One Television None No dollar limit
Rent Money $200(!) $2,500
Cash or Savings $200 $2,500
Personal Property None up to $6,000**
Jewelry None $1,225

This list is not intended to be an exhaustive list of the changes to the Massachusetts Exemptions.  Further, these changes do not mean that all or even most debtors will benefit from choosing the Massachusetts Exemption menu over the Federal Exemption menu when filing a bankruptcy.  A qualified bankruptcy attorney can assist you in making the best decision to protect you and your family.  For a no-cost, no-obligation consultation call the Law Offices of James Wingfield at 508-797-0200, or visit the Contact page on our website.

*  The new automobile exemption in Massachusetts allows an elderly or disabled debtor to protect up to $15,000 of equity in an automobile.

** The new “personal property” exemption under Massachusetts law can be from $1,000 to $6,000 based on an individuals specific circumstances.


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The Law Offices of James Wingfield is proud to be a debt relief agency. We help the individuals, families and small businesses of the Worcester area file for bankruptcy relief under the United States Bankruptcy Code. The Law Offices of James Wingfield serves Central and Western Massachusetts clients in Worcester County, Hampden County, Hampshire County and Middlesex County including Worcester, Shrewsbury, Springfield, Westborough, Southborough, Framingham, Northampton, Natick, Amherst, Fitchburg, Leomister, Douglas, Uxbridge, Gardner, Belchertown, Holyoke, Wilbraham and Chicopee. The information contained and obtained in this website does not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. Contacting us, be it through this website, via email of by telephone does not create an attorney-client relationship. An attorney-client relationship is only created upon execution of an engagement agreement or fee agreement.