Contrary to popular belief, seizing houses and cars and freezing bank accounts are not the only ways to enforce a judgment.
There are other creative avenues to pursue against a debtor who may or may not have liquid funds to satisfy a judgement, including issuing a subpoena with restraining notice to the debtor’s bank and seizing the contents of his or her safe deposit box.
Upon service of a subpoena with restraining notice from the creditor or the creditor’s attorney, the bank is required to seal the safe deposit box and prohibit all access to it, including by the debtor. The creditor can then ask the Sheriff or City Marshal to meet with a representative from the bank to unlock and catalog the contents of the debtor’s safe deposit box, which will then be turned over to the Sheriff or Marshal.
The safe deposit box may contain cash, bonds, jewelry, or other personal property of the debtor. If the box contains cash, then the Sheriff or Marshal will take their fee, called poundage, and distribute the remaining cash to the creditor, up to an amount sufficient to satisfy the judgment. If there is no cash, or if there is not enough cash to satisfy the judgment, then the Sheriff or Marshall can seize any property in the box, sell it at auction, and distribute the proceeds from the sale to the creditor (while keeping a portion for poundage).
In some cases, multiple people own or have access to the debtor’s safe deposit box, which can complicate things. In that scenario, any non-debtor who jointly owns the box with the debtor has the opportunity to challenge the execution by claiming that some or all of the property in the safe deposit box belongs to him or her, and therefore should not be subject to seizure.
Our next article will further explore how to pursue a judgment when two people claim ownership over the safe deposit box.
Kenneth J. Katz
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