There is a myth that filing for bankruptcy means you have to give up your assets. This is simply not true. Bankruptcy law lays out specific exemptions which are used to protect your assets when you file for bankruptcy. (Federal exemptions are found in 11 U.S.C. § 522). In your petition you need to list all of your assets. These are all part of the “estate” and become property of the trustee. Exemptions are used to pull your property of the estate and protect it as yours. There are both federal and state exemptions and each state varies. When filing you can either choose one or the other, you cannot mix and match. There are also rules as to which state’s laws you are allowed to use based on where you live. Your attorney will usually be the one to choose what is best for your circumstances. In general, federal exemptions cover more items because of the “wildcard exemption.” Most exemptions are for specific items, but the wildcard can be used on any property up to $12,725 (depending on the amount of equity in your home).
The most common reason to use Minnesota exemptions, specifically, is if you have a home with a lot of equity. Minnesota has a large homestead exemption to protect your home, which is one of the most important assets to people and the most important to protect. If you need to use Minnesota’s exemptions, you may end up with “non-exempt” property. This means that you are not able to protect it and it will become part of your estate for the trustee. The most common non-exempt items are tax refunds and bank account balances. If you have a few non-exempt items it is not something to worry too much about. In most cases a tax refund is small in comparison with the amount of debt being discharged. Just because an item is “non-exempt” doesn’t mean you will lose it. You can pay the trustee to keep it, essentially buying it back from the trustee. Please consult an attorney, as the exemption laws are very technical and may result in loss of property if they are not used correctly.