Homestead Exemption and Bankruptcy in Virginia
The Homestead Exemption in Virginia can be found in section 34-4 of the Code of Virginia. The exemption allows a lifetime maximum of $5,000 per person with an addition $500 per dependent. If the debtor is over the age of 65, they may claim an additional $5,000. This exemption can be used to protect any equity in real or personal property. However, unlike many states, Virginia has a deed filing requirement to take advantage of the homestead exemption.
For example, if a debtor in bankruptcy is attempting to protect $3000 in equity in his condo, he must have an attorney produce the homestead deed listing the condo and the amount protected and file it in the city or county that the real property is located. If the person is protecting personal property, then the deed just has to be filed in the city the person lives in.
Additionally, the deed must be filed within 5 days of the 341 Meeting of Creditors. People attempting to file their own bankruptcy often lose property such as tax refund, money in the bank or garnishmed wages because they either do not file it correctly or at all.
Since the exemption is a "lifetime limit", any homestead deeds filed in prior Chapter 7 cases are counted against the amount you have available to use. So if you used your whole $5,000 in a bankruptcy and then are forced to file another Chapter 7 you will not have any protection for liquid assets. This requires a lot of planning to avoid losing the liquid assets which attorneys are trained to do.
Your homestead exemption is a powerful tool and can force creditors to turn over garnished wages or funds from bank accounts and protect tax refunds from the bankruptcy trustee. Make sure you get an attorney to assist you with the filing of your case or you could end up losing more than you save on attorney fees.