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What is a writ of execution

A debtor must answer creditor notices to prevent property seizure from taking place.

By the time a writ of execution is served by a law enforcement official, an individual's assets are about to be seized for payment to a creditor.

"Basically, [the writ] is a court order from the judge allowing the sheriff to take possession of any assets you may have on hand," writes North Carolina attorney Damon Duncan on his law firm's website. "A writ of execution is filed after a judgment has been issued against you in favor of the plaintiff, such as a credit card company or other creditor."

But there are several steps that must occur before the sheriff, a local constable or a U.S. Marshal arrives to serve the writ, and those steps provide a debtor with the opportunity to halt or at least delay the process.

It begins when a creditor files a lawsuit to obtain payment for a debt that is owed to them, and the debtor is notified of the court action. At this point, the debtor should respond, and attend the court hearing that is set to hear the complaint. If the individual does not attend the hearing, a default judgment will be filed in favor of the creditor.

"In other words, due to your absence, the judge automatically awards the [creditor] the right to pursue the funds owed," states Duncan.

If that happens, the debtor will receive another notice of a motion to exempt property and has about 20 days to respond. Again, if there is no response from the debtor, the process will continue in favor of the creditor's collection effort. At this point, a writ of execution may be issued by a judge, allowing the sheriff to come to a debtor's residence with the intent of seizing property.

"The writ is normally limited to execution within the state in which the district [or bankruptcy] court is held unless extended by federal statute," states USMarshals.gov.

The debtor may be able to delay the process one more time by informing the sheriff that a bankruptcy filing is planned. However, within a short period, the law enforcement agency must be provided with a bankruptcy case number to prove it has been filed and an automatic stay is in effect to halt further collection.

If a bankruptcy case isn't filed or the lawsuit isn't settled, law enforcement will have the ability to seize any non-exempt assets to pay the creditor.

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