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Writ Of Execution
An execution of a judgment is the process that begins when a judgment owner hires an official officer of the court (usually the Sheriff) to take possession of property belonging to the judgment debtor, with the purpose and goal of selling it to satisfy the judgment against the debtor. Judgment execution rules may vary by state and jurisdiction. A writ of execution is permission from the court to allow the Sheriff to levy a judgment debtor's property.
Judgment executions usually have four steps:
1) The judgment creditor learns about an available asset of their judgment debtor, and where it is located.
2) The judgment creditor buys a Writ Of Execution (called a FiFa in some states) from the court. Note that in California, you do not check the Writ of Sale box on the writ even if it is for a Sheriff to do a levy sale.
3) The judgment creditor contacts the Sheriff to learn the required paperwork, costs, and procedures; to levy the judgment debtor's property. The judgment creditor delivers the court writ, fees, and required documents, and possibly a letter of instruction; to the Sheriff (or other official officer, perhaps a Marshall or Constable). The court can explain how it works where one lives.
4A) If the judgment debtor's property is money, from wages or bank accounts (where state laws allow), the Sheriff attempts a levy (called a garnishment in some states), and if it is successful, eventually pays the judgment creditor; sometimes deducting a small fee for each check issued.
4B) If the judgment debtor's property is a physical asset, for example, a vehicle, real estate, a coin collection, a flat-screen TV, a pet, or many other kinds of non-money assets; the Sheriff charges a hefty fee to the judgment creditor, then levies the debtor's asset, and schedules it for sale at a Sheriff auction at a future date. The creditor must pay for storage, and pay auction costs too. Also, some debtor property is exempt from creditor's executions.
After the Sheriff is paid their fees, and has the time, they will take the judgment debtor's asset, with the intention of selling it at an auction. If the auction successfully proceeds, the Sheriff deducts the auction costs, and whatever money remains, they pay to the judgment creditor, to help satisfy the judgment.
Of course, nothing is guaranteed. After the judgment creditor pays the Sheriff and provides the writ and the correct paperwork, with instructions that identify what assets are to be executed; the Sheriff will try to levy the assets.
If the debtor's asset is locked up or hidden, usually the Sheriff will not levy it, and the creditor will need to try to get a court order, for the Sheriff to (e.g.) hire a locksmith to pick the lock, or a "break in order", to enter a property to levy a judgment debtor's physical asset.
If the Sheriff is able to levy the debtor's asset, anything can happen. If the judgment debtor does not want to lose the property scheduled to be auctioned, they have the right to pay the judgment debt and associated costs before the sale takes place. If they pay off the judgment, they get their property back.
Sometimes the judgment debtor files for bankruptcy protection which stops the Sheriff sale and all other collection actions. Sometimes they claim an exemption which reduces or eliminates the amount available to the creditor. Sometimes there is a preexisting lien or loan on the asset, which must be paid off before the judgment creditor gets paid. These things (or something else) can happen, at any time between when the Sheriff arrives to levy the asset, and after the date of the auction sale. If nothing happens to stop it, the Sheriff schedules the sale, and advertises the event for anyone who wants to attend the auction. If the auction sale is completed successfully, the judgment creditor is paid, minus some expenses and fees.
If the judgment debtor's levied property does not sell at the auction, their asset reverts back to the debtor, and the judgment creditor is out whatever they paid to the court and Sheriff. For that reason, it makes sense for a judgment creditor to attend the sheriff auction sale, and credit bid on the debtor's asset (satisfy the judgment to the extent of the creditor's winning bid) to get ownership of the judgment debtor's asset, if nobody else bids on it.
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