September 21, 2012
By: John Clark
Arizona residents may be able to shield more assets from creditors during bankruptcy than filers in other states, according to a report from Arizona Central News.
In a recent court decision, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against bankruptcy trustees who tried to argue that filers can only keep life insurance policies and annuities if the beneficiaries of those policies are minor children.
The judge, however, said that Arizona bankruptcy laws may allow filers to keep the value of their life insurance policies, even if the beneficiaries are not minor children. During bankruptcy, filers are often allowed to keep a number of exempt items.
In Arizona, for example, Chapter 7 bankruptcy filers are allowed to keep a vehicle worth a certain amount, their wedding rings, and other important pieces of property.
But whether filers can keep the proceeds of life insurance policies is a relatively unsettled area of bankruptcy law, so the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had to step in.
The appellate court dealt with two cases. One involved a woman who named her adult daughter as beneficiary of three life insurance policies worth $40,000. The other case involved a woman who also listed her adult daughter as the beneficiary of a $33,000 life insurance policy.
In both cases, the adult daughters were not dependent on their parents. As a result, in both cases, the trustees claimed that the policies should not be exempt from liquidation.
And a court at the trial level sided with the trustees, claiming that federal laws allow the trustees to gather assets like life insurance policies that are not intended for minor beneficiaries.
The appellate court, however, overturned the lower court, citing an Arizona law that allowed bankruptcy filers to exempt life insurance policies, regardless of who those policies will eventually benefit.
And the court ruled that, in this case, state bankruptcy laws trumped federal laws, which reveals just how confusing some of the interplay between state and federal rules can be in bankruptcy court.
The case also reveals why so many Americans choose to contact a bankruptcy lawyer before marching into bankruptcy court - the uncertainties of the laws can make heading into court alone a daunting task.
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