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A summary of Washington bankruptcy exemptions

The state of Washington has established a list of various kinds of property that may not be attached by creditors to satisfy a judgment. This same list establishes the kinds of property that are exempt from the claims of creditors in a bankruptcy proceeding.

When a person files a bankruptcy petition, one of the initial tasks is listing and valuing the property that is exempt from creditors' claims. The debtor may use the exemptions allowed under the United States Bankruptcy Act or the exemptions available under Washington law. A person cannot use both lists.

Under Washington law, many assets are exempt. The homestead is exempt up to $40,000 of net equity (assessed value minus any mortgages against the property). Household furnishings, including appliances, furnishings, and household goods up to $2,700 are exempt. Clothing, up to $1,000 in furs and jewelry, and $1,500 worth of books are likewise exempt. An individual may keep one motor vehicle with a value of not more than $2,500. If a husband and wife file a joint petition, each may declare one automobile exempt under this provision. Various kinds of insurance, annuities, and retirement plans are also exempt, such as group life insurance and fraternal benefit life insurance, ERISA benefits, IRAs, and workers' compensation benefits. Tools of a trade, such as office furniture and equipment, medical equipment and supplies, are exempt. Seventy-five percent of earned but unpaid wages are exempt, and the bankruptcy court can increase the maximum for low-income debtors.

Selecting and valuing exempt property and deciding whether to use the federal list or the state list of exemptions can be a daunting task. Many bankruptcy filers may find the advice of an experienced bankruptcy attorney helpful in making these decisions.

Source: Washington Bankruptcy Law, "Washington Bankruptcy Exemptions," accessed on July 31, 2017

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