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What is a Warrant of Execution Against Property?

Instructor: Kenneth Poortvliet

Kenneth has a JD, practiced law for over 10 years, and has taught criminal justice courses as a full-time instructor.

When a losing party refuses to pay a money judgment issued by a judge, the law allows the winning party the ability to seize some assets. In this lesson we will learn the role a Warrant of Execution plays in that process.

Show Me the Money

Archibald's German shepherd, Brutus, chomped on Fluffy, Helga's Pomeranian, causing her to incur thousands in medical bills. She sued Archibald and won a judgment of $5,000, but Archibald--still insisting that Fluffy ''started it''--refused to pay. So one day, Helga spied Brutus' new gold-encrusted water dish and figured it was worth about $5,000. From jail, she called her dog sitter first and then her attorney.

Obviously, trespassing and taking Brutus' dish wasn't the best way to get her money, but if Archibald refuses, what is she supposed to do?

Warrant of Execution

There are lawful procedures in place to satisfy a court judgment. A warrant of execution is used in parts of Britain and is an instrument issued by a court to enforce a judgment.

A warrant of execution is used only in England and Wales and is sought through an application by the creditor, typically the winner of the lawsuit. The application is made to a judge in the County Court, which is a purely civil court with courthouses in cities and towns throughout England and Wales. If granted, the judge issues the warrant and refers the matter to a court local to the debtor, the person who owes the money.

The Execution

This local court sends a notification to the debtor asking for payment, which must be made within 7 days after receiving the notice. If the amount is paid, then the warrant is satisfied and the action ceases. If the person can't pay or only pays partially, then the local bailiff will come to the home to identify items for seizure.

A bailiff in England and Wales is a court official assigned to a particular court whose responsibility it is to enforce civil warrants (warrants of execution), criminal warrants, collections of arrears, taxes, and commercial rents. When enforcing a warrant of execution, the bailiff speaks with the debtor, giving them another chance to pay. If they don't, then he or she marks items for seizure that will be taken to an auction.

After items are sold, the money first covers storage and administrative fees associated with the auction. Then, proceeds go to paying off the judgment, including all court costs. Any funds left over go to the debtor. A bailiff has no authority to garnish wages to satisfy a debt; however, the court can do so if asked by the debtor.

Property Exclusions

Once a notice of a writ of execution is given, a debtor has the right to exclude certain property from being seized. This is so the debtor won't become destitute once the judgment is executed. Most are essential items like shelter, clothing, food, tools of the trade, primary vehicles and basic household items. A debtor can also ask the court to suspend the warrant in lieu of installment payments, and if granted, then all seized property is returned, and the debtor begins making payments.

In the United States

The American version of a warrant of execution is a writ of execution. There are more similarities than differences between the two, and both work toward the same purpose: to assist the holder of a court judgment in getting payment from the debtor. In most states, the sheriff executes a writ of execution and has similar authority to seize property to satisfy the debt.

However, a writ of execution is often a separate step in the American system and is only issued when the debtor refuses to pay. If the writ is granted, then the sheriff can garnish wages, take vehicle titles, and seize personal property to be sold at a sheriff's sale, which operates like an auction but has no reserves (minimum bid amount).

In the U.S., a debtor can file for exempted items similar to those in England and Wales. In most cases, the allowable exemptions include most of a person's assets, leaving many judgments unsatisfied. This is especially true in states that do not allow wage garnishment. As a final measure, any unpaid balance can be made as a lien against any real property owned.

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