Homesteading and Declaration of Homestead
One topic I haven't covered yet here is homesteading. This has nothing to do with the Homestead Act of 1862 that encouraged settling the western United States.
A declaration of Homestead basically protects your equity. In many cases, you may not even have to file a declaration to receive the benefits, but whether this is so is complex. If you file, you remove the ambiguity.
A homestead declaration may only be filed upon a primary residence, and only if you own it. Rental property, second homes, and property held for business purposes is not eligible. Law between the states varies, as does the exemption amount
How it works is pretty consistent. First off, it protects no equity arising from dates prior to declaration. If you are in one of those situations where you have to explicitly declare homestead instead of it happening de facto, you have to actually declare it before the incident happens. You get in a traffic accident that's your fault, and go out and declare homestead the next day, it won't help you protect your equity against that particular lawsuit.
Note that it protects your equity, not your asset value. If the home is worth $500,000 (as is often the case in San Diego) but you owe $400,000, you have $100,000 of equity. How much it protects is dependent upon your state law and exact situation. Default protection in California is $50,000, but it can be up to $150,000 if you or your spouse are 55 or older, disabled, or have income less than $15,000 per year.
It can also prevent sale of the property in some, although not all situations. In California, the judgment creditor usually has to get a court order, after they have won the judgment, in order to sell the property. I'm not a lawyer, so I'm not going to presume to advise anyone on what those circumstances are.
Now, there is some question in some minds as to whether a homestead declaration inhibits enforcements of Deed of Trust, so many lenders will require an abandonment of homestead prior to funding their loan. You can always re-declare as soon as the loan funds, anyway. I know that some folks have fought this issue in court, costing the lenders money to pay their lawyers, so it's hard to blame the lenders for requiring it. You can refuse to do this, but they can also refuse to give you the loan. It's their money, and they are the arbiters of how they lend it out.
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