homestead exemption

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A homestead is a house, outbuildings and adjoining land owned by a person or a family and used as a residence.

A homestead exemption is a legal provision that prevents creditors from being paid off from a debtor's homestead, and also includes a homestead‘s exemption from property taxes and from the death of the homeowner's spouse. Homestead exemption serves the public policy goal of ensuring that families are not forced by economic hardship to lose a dwelling where they can live peacefully. It is based on the theory that the protection of the homestead takes precedence over the protection of creditors.

State laws regarding the homestead exemption vary widely. Most states have limits on the amount of exemption a debtor is entitled to, such as $20,000, but a few states have no limits at all, exempting the entire homestead of the homeowner for debt service. Other states have limits that depend on the size and type of property or the age of the property owner.

[Last updated in March of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]