Arizonans who have to seek protection from creditors in bankruptcy court soon will be able to hang on to more of what they own.
Legislation signed Wednesday by Gov. Jan Brewer will allow Arizonans to keep up to $6,000 in household items. That is 50 percent higher than what is currently permitted.
But the bigger change is that those filing for bankruptcy will be able to decide exactly what fits within that $6,000 limit.
That is a significant change from the current law which spells out exactly what items someone can keep. And it is really specific.
For example, someone filing for bankruptcy now can keep one living room couch, three coffee or end table, three living room lamps and one carpet or rug for that area. Also protected from creditors are two beds -- more if there are other dependents in the house -- one radio alarm clock, one stove, one washing machine and one vacuum cleaner.
And if you want to keep the stereo, the television has to go, or vice versa.
Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, said that kind of specificity makes little sense.
He said someone who has two clocks that are family heirlooms should not be forced to sell one off to get the protections of federal bankruptcy law. Farnsworth said so long as the value of all the household items remains below that $6,000 limit, the mix should not matter.
Arizona gets a say in this because while bankruptcy protection is a federal law, Congress has allowed each state to decide how much can shield from creditors.
The law, which will take effect later this year, also boosts the value of what other items do not have to be sold off.
Current law, for example, says someone filing for bankruptcy cannot have engagement and wedding rings worth more than $1,000.
Farnsworth said that figure has not been updated in awhile. So his legislation doubles that.
Higher limits also are in the place for the value of a watch, musical instruments and domestic animals.
The law also doubles, to $1,000, the value of various other items that can be retained including a typewriter, bicycle, sewing machine, family bible, burial plot and one shotgun, rifle or pistol.
And, updated values aside, the revisions also update the law to at least the late 20th century: That list of miscellaneous items in that $1,000 limit also now can include a computer.
The other update comes in a separate section of which says that tools and business equipment are exempt from being taken away.
Not only is the aggregate value of those doubled, to $5,000, but the law will now recognize that other items should remain in the possession of those who declare bankruptcy to enable them to continue their business. That includes telephone number, client contact information and marketing tools like web sites and domain names.
The legislation leaves two key aspects of the bankruptcy law alone.
First, the maximum equity someone can have in a home remains at the $150,000 figure set in 2004. Prior to that it was $100,000.
Second, those filing for bankruptcy remain entitled to keep any professionally prescribed items like wheelchairs and artificial limbs, regardless of value.