PROTECTING PROPERTY FROM BEING TAKEN AS A RESULT OF A MONETARY JUDGMENT AGAINST YOU

If you have been sued by someone and they get a judgment for money against you, they will often ask the Sheriff’s office to take or “attach” your personal property. The person to whom you owe the money can try and have the Sheriff sell such things as your furniture or your car. The Sheriff may also take money which belongs to you but which is in the possession of someone else, for example money which is in your bank account.

If this happens, the Sheriff OR a Constable operating out of a Magisterial District Justice office will come to your home and hand you a document called a “Writ of Execution” (click to follow the link to the document). The Sheriff will then make a list of your property.

The form gives you a list of the things which Pennsylvania and the Federal government will allow you to protect from attachment, e.g.

  • $300.00
  • Bibles, schoolbooks, sewing machines, uniforms, and equipment
  • Most wages and unemployment compensation
  • Social Security Benefits
  • Certain retirement funds and accounts (Public School Employees’ Retirement Fund; State Employees’ Retirement Fund; Police Pension Funds; Philadelphia Pension Fund; Pittsburgh Pension Fund; Pennsylvania Municipal Retirement Fund’ Private Employees’ pensions or annuity funds; Self-employed retirement or annuity funds; retirement or annuity funds provided for under the Internal Revenue Code; Civil Service, Foreign Service, Railroad Retirement, Judges’ widows’ annuities)
  • Certain veteran and armed forces benefits (Armed Forces Survivor Benefit Plan; Savings deposited with armed forces; Medal of Honor roll Special Pension)
  • Certain insurance benefits (Fraternal society benefits; Worker’s Compensation; Group insurance; Life insurance and annuities; Accident and disability insurance; No- Fault motor vehicle accident benefits; unemployment compensation)
  • Such other exemptions as may be provided by law*

If you do nothing, the Sheriff can either peaceably or by breaking in by force, enter the place or building in which the goods are contained for the purpose of taking possession of them for sale.

If you want to protect your property, you will need to immediately file a “Claim for Exemption” (click to follow the link to the document) asking for a prompt hearing on your claims. You file the “Claim for Exemption” with the Sheriff’s office and the Sheriff will see that a hearing is scheduled. At the hearing you should take any documentation as to the value of the property you are claiming as exempt or witness testimony as to the condition and value of the property. Pictures would be helpful.

If you have personal property in your possession being levied upon, you can ask that your $300 come from either the value of specific property which you list OR that you be given the $300 after the property is sold. If you want to protect property which someone else is holding for you, you can protect your $300 in a bank or in the value of property someone else has AND you can protect any of the other items listed above in numbers 2 through 8.

What if the property the Sheriff lists in your home is not actually your property but in fact belongs to someone else e.g. your children (a spouse can be a third party if the property is owned jointly but the judgment is against only one spouse and not both)?

You will need to have the true owner file what is called a “Third Party Property Claim” or “Third Party Goods Claim” (click to follow the link to the document) claim in order to formally tell the Sheriff that the property belongs to them. Often the third party owner is not available/will not file a third party claim. If that happens, at the common pleas level, the defendant is clearly permitted to file a claim on behalf of the third party. At the MDJ though, no corresponding rule exists but I have successfully had clients file a claim saying the levy is illegal because the property belongs to a third party.

*Personal earnings subject to exceptions relating to divorce and for support board, certain damages arising from a residential lease, and student loan obligations; tangible personal property on international exhibition; common carrier, property in interstate transit; Veterans’ litigation awards; sums payable under the Veterans’ Compensation Act , the World War II Veterans Compensation Act, the Korean conflict Veterans Compensation Act, and the Vietnam Conflict Veterans’ Compensation Act; longshoreman’s and harborworkers’ compensation; injury or death resulting from war-risk hazard