What are my homestead rights?

The right to own property was one of the founding principles of our nation. After centuries in Europe where kings and lords owned most of the land and only the eldest son inherited property, America offered the opportunity for individuals to own land, regardless of birthright or class.

However, owning property also creates an asset that potential creditors might attempt to seize. The law has statues in place to help homeowners protect their residences from the hands of those creditors. These are known as homestead rights.

"Homestead" generally refers to a family's dwelling and the land upon which the dwelling rests. Under Mississippi law, families have the right to keep a certain portion of their homestead exempt from creditors. Specifically, the law exempts 160 acres or $75,000 in equity, whichever is lower, from the reach of creditors. The sole requirement of a property owner to receive this exemption is to occupy the property as his or her primary residence. However, if a spouse is over 60 years of age, he or she can still maintain that exemption, even if the property is no longer the primary residence.

To declare a homestead exemption, the property owner must file a claim with the county tax assessor's office. Along with protecting the property from creditors, filing for homestead exemption also benefits the homeowner through a reduction in property taxes.

The homestead law's intent is to keep families on their property. In the case of a property owner's death, the homestead exemption extends to the surviving spouse or to the couple's children of minor age. This prevents the deceased's creditors from making a claim on the property.

Situations do arise in which the homeowner does not reside on the property, yet the law honors the homestead exemption. For example, if a situation forces a person off his or her property, as in the case of a wife's escaping an abusing husband, the wife can claim the homestead right in a future divorce or other legal proceeding.

Under Mississippi law, a spouse cannot mortgage homestead property without the signed consent of the other spouse. In fact, any attempt to transfer the title to property to another person without the written consent of the spouse is void.

Homestead exemption laws strive to give a homeowner the assurance that the development of bad credit cannot threaten the family's security of having a roof over their heads. However, homestead exemption is not automatic, but is dependent upon the homeowner's filing the claim with the county. Along with being a tax savings to the property owner, this simple procedure may prove someday to be the difference between remaining in your home and turning it over to creditors.