Whether you are a business owner, investor, or retiree in the Florida Keys, you have probably considered creating an asset protection plan to ensure that, in the event that you are involved in a lawsuit, divorce matter, or bankruptcy proceeding, your assets cannot be garnished by creditors. Asset protection is an important but complex area of the law, and retaining an experienced Key West asset protection attorney will ensure that none of your assets are unnecessarily left unprotected.
Florida’s Asset Protection Laws
Key West’s asset protection laws are well-known for their flexibility and overall liberalness towards debtors. For example, the benefits of the state’s asset protection laws and regulations are not reserved for permanent residents, but are extended to part-time residents as long as the latter has a primary residence or temporary home in the state. Florida law also protects certain assets from creditors by exempting them from garnishment. Some of the most well-known exemptions include the following:
- Salary and wages;
- Life insurance policies;
- Pensions; and
- Disability benefits.
There are also a variety of miscellaneous exemptions established by law, including:
- Personal property;
- Medical savings accounts;
- Unemployment benefits; and
- Education savings.
The Homestead Exemption
One of the biggest advantages to those looking to protect their assets in Key West is the homestead exemption. This exemption means that any Florida resident who owns property located within a municipality that is less than half an acre, and who has owned that property for more than 1,215 days, is exempt from forced sales. The same rule applies to residents with no more than 160 acres of property located outside of a municipality.
Salary and Wages
The head of a family who earns a salary or wage of less than $750 a week will be exempt from having his or her paycheck garnished. Wages that exceed $750 per week are also protected from creditors unless the wage-earner provides written permission waiving this benefit. Individuals who are not heads of the family, but provide part of the household income, are regulated under the Consumer Credit Protection Act.
Life Insurance Policies
When a Florida resident passes away, any proceeds from a life insurance policy for whom a beneficiary is designated are protected from creditors. However, this exemption does not extend to a beneficiary’s creditors, who are not similarly barred from garnishing the proceeds of the policy.
Any benefits that are the result of a pension are also protected from creditors as long as the plan qualifies under ERISA. For example, governmental and church plans, as well as IRAs, do not qualify for exemption under the Act. Furthermore, this exemption does not shield pension holders from federal tax liens and judgments. The pensions and retirement benefits of the following employees are also exempt from garnishment:
- State and county officers;
- Law enforcement officers; and
In Florida, garnishment of income received under an insurance policy for disability is strictly prohibited. Workers’ compensation settlement funds are also considered disability income under this exemption.
There are also a few miscellaneous assets that are exempt from garnishment, including:
- Personal property of up to $1,000 (items like furniture, art, and electronics);
- Automobiles up to $1,000 (in motor vehicle equity);
- Prescribed health aids; and
- Prepaid medical savings accounts.
Key West Asset Protection Requires Experience
Asset protection plans can go a long way toward ensuring that your hard-earned assets are not lost in a future legal proceeding. Navigating the relevant laws and regulations can be tricky, but retaining an experienced and diligent attorney can help give you peace of mind. If you have questions about the state of your own finances or how best to protect your assets, please contact the Key West asset protection attorneys at the Silver Law Group for an initial consultation. We serve the entire Florida Keys along with the most of Monroe and Miami-Dade Counties.