EXEMPT PROPERTY AND ESTATES

October 28, 2010 § 11 Comments

You’re handling an estate of a decedent whose spouse predeceased him.  The decedent was a man of modest means with a two-bedroom home in town, some furniture and appliances, an older car, some savings and $6,000 in a 401(k) account.  There’s not enough cash to  pay all the creditors’ claims.  The surviving children and grandchildren want you to close the estate as soon as possible.  Do you advise them to sell the furniture at an estate sale to muster up enough cash to satisfy the creditors?  Or should you get court approval to sell the house, pay the debts, and distribute what’s left?

Not so fast.  All that property may not even belong in the estate in the first place.  It may not be subject to the creditors’ claims at all.

MCA § 91-1-19 provides in part:

 The property, real and personal, exempted by law from sale under execution or attachment shall, on the death of the husband or wife owning it, descend to the survivor of them and the children and grandchildren of the decedent, as tenants in common, grandchildren inheriting their deceased parent’s share; and if there be no children or grandchildren of the decedent, to the surviving wife or husband; and if there be no such survivor, to the children and grandchildren of the deceased owner.”

What this language means is that the property that is exempted by Mississippi law from sale under execution or attachment descends automatically, not through any estate, as stated in the statute.  You would be shortchanging the statutory survivors considerably by not pursuing the exemptions. 

It’s important to know what are the exemptions.  MCA § 85-3-1 sets out the personal property and financial assets that are exempt:

There shall be exempt from seizure under execution or attachment:

(a) Tangible personal property of the following kinds selected by the debtor, not exceeding Ten Thousand Dollars ($10,000.00) in cumulative value:

(i) Household goods, wearing apparel, books, animals or crops;

(ii) Motor vehicles;

(iii) Implements, professional books or tools of the trade;

(iv) Cash on hand;

(v) Professionally prescribed health aids;

(vi) Any items of tangible personal property worth less than Two Hundred Dollars ($200.00) each.

Household goods, as used in this paragraph (a), means clothing, furniture, appliances, one (1) radio and one (1) television, one (1) firearm, one (1) lawnmower, linens, china, crockery, kitchenware, and personal effects (including wedding rings) of the debtor and his dependents; however, works of art, electronic entertainment equipment (except one (1) television and one (1) radio), jewelry (other than wedding rings), and items acquired as antiques are not included within the scope of the term “household goods.” This paragraph (a) shall not apply to distress warrants issued for collection of taxes due the state or to wages described in Section 85-3-4.

(b)(i) The proceeds of insurance on property, real and personal, exempt from execution or attachment, and the proceeds of the sale of such property.

(ii) Income from disability insurance.

(c) All property in this state, real, personal and mixed, for the satisfaction of a judgment or claim in favor of another state or political subdivision of another state for failure to pay that state’s or that political subdivision’s income tax on benefits received from a pension or other retirement plan. As used in this paragraph (c), “pension or other retirement plan” includes:

(i) An annuity, pension, or profit-sharing or stock bonus or similar plan established to provide retirement benefits for an officer or employee of a public or private employer or for a self-employed individual;

(ii) An annuity, pension, or military retirement pay plan or other retirement plan administered by the United States; and

(iii) An individual retirement account.

(d) One (1) mobile home, trailer, manufactured housing, or similar type dwelling owned and occupied as the primary residence by the debtor, not exceeding a value of Thirty Thousand Dollars ($30,000.00); in determining this value, existing encumbrances on the dwelling, including taxes and all other liens, shall first be deducted from the actual value of the dwelling. A debtor is not entitled to the exemption of a mobile home as personal property who claims a homestead exemption under Section 85-3-21, and the exemption shall not apply to collection of delinquent taxes under Sections 27-41-101 through 27-41-109.

(e) Assets held in, or monies payable to the participant or beneficiary from, whether vested or not, (i) a pension, profit-sharing, stock bonus or similar plan or contract established to provide retirement benefits for the participant or beneficiary and qualified under Section 401(a), 403(a), or 403(b) of the Internal Revenue Code (or corresponding provisions of any successor law), including a retirement plan for self-employed individuals qualified under one of such enumerated sections, (ii) an eligible deferred compensation plan described in Section 457(b) of the Internal Revenue Code (or corresponding provisions of any successor law), or (iii) an individual retirement account or an individual retirement annuity within the meaning of Section 408 of the Internal Revenue Code (or corresponding provisions of any successor law), including a simplified employee pension plan.

(f) Monies paid into or, to the extent payments out are applied to tuition or other qualified higher education expenses at eligible educational institutions, as defined in Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code or corresponding provisions of any successor law, monies paid out of the assets of and the income from any validly existing qualified tuition program authorized under Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code or corresponding provisions of any successor law, including, but not limited to, the Mississippi Prepaid Affordable College Tuition (MPACT) Program established under Sections 37-155-1 through 37-155-27 and the Mississippi Affordable College Savings (MACS) Program established under Sections 37-155-101 through 37-155-125.

(g) The assets of a health savings account, including any interest accrued thereon, established pursuant to a health savings account program as provided in the Health Savings Accounts Act (Sections 83-62-1 through 83-62-9).

(h) In addition to all other exemptions listed in this section, there shall be an additional exemption of property having a value of Fifty Thousand Dollars ($50,000.00) of whatever type, whether real, personal or mixed, tangible or intangible, including deposits of money, available to any Mississippi resident who is seventy (70) years of age or older.

(i) An amount not to exceed Five Thousand Dollars ($5,000.00) of earned income tax credit proceeds.

(j) An amount not to exceed Five Thousand Dollars ($5,000.00) of federal tax refund proceeds.

(k) An amount not to exceed Five Thousand Dollars ($5,000.00) of state tax refund proceeds.

(l) Nothing in this section shall in any way affect the rights or remedies of the holder or owner of a statutory lien or voluntary security interest.

MCA § 85-3-21 establishes the homestead exemption. 

There are other exemptions that are set out in the cross-references to the code sections cited.

MCA § 91-7-117 requires the appraisers to set apart the exempt property.

As attorney for the estate, you have a duty to determine what assets need to be declared exempt and not included in it.  In moderate estates it could mean the difference between survivors getting nothing and the survivors getting something.

Now re-read the first paragraph above.  Do you see it differently?

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