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Holding a Wildcard

My family loves to play games, from board games as traditional as Monopoly to a card game affectionately referred to as Pond Scum. One of my favorite games as a young child was Uno. It was simple and fast. Plus, I always knew which card to hang on to: the wildcard. It was a beautiful card, containing all the colors of the game. The wildcard could be played on any other card, and I always viewed it as the perfect way to end a game of Uno.

In Uno, having a wildcard is good, but knowing when to play it is better. The same is true with a legal wildcard.

The legal wildcard I’m referring to is found in the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure. 735 ILCS 5/12-1001(b). The players who hold a wildcard are debtors. A debtor is a person against whom a judgment has been entered.

So how much is that wildcard worth? And when should it be played?

The wildcard is worth $4,000 a person. Figuring out when to play it is the tricky part. The law puts a debtor’s assets into two figurative piles. The first is the exempt pile. This is the stuff the law says your creditor can’t touch, like family pictures, a bible, or social security payments. The second pile contains everything else, which the law calls non-exempt assets. The second pile is the candy store for the creditor. They get to look at what’s there and decide (with the court’s blessing) what they want to use to pay the debt.

With these basics in mind, here are some simple rules for playing the debtor’s wildcard: (1) only use it on non-exempt, second pile, assets; (2) don’t use it until the creditor is trying to come after something from the second pile that you want to keep; (3) claim it in court, that’s the only way it counts; and (4) make sure you really want to use it because you only get to play it once up to $4,000. For example, let’s say you owe AT&T $1,000 on a judgment and in your second pile you have a bank account worth $3,000. You can play your wildcard to protect all the money in your bank account, but that only leaves you with $1,000 on your wildcard. That means, if AT&T, or another creditor, came after the 1965 Mustang you restored with your dad, you’d only have $1,000 worth of wildcard left to play toward something that might be worth more to you than your bank account.      

Concluding Remarks: (1) Always consult a lawyer (2) know your cards and know when to play them.

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