Judgment debtors frequently maintain multiple bank accounts at particular banks. Some accounts may be in the debtor’s individual name and subject to the creditor’s writ of garnishment. Other accounts may be exempt joint accounts, wage accounts, or even accounts in the name of a separate, non-debtor business entity for which the debtor has signature authority.
Many of my clients find that their judgment creditors cause the bank to freeze all accounts at their bank including the exempt accounts and accounts of separate entities which are not involved in the lawsuit.
My clients ask me why did their creditor garnish a joint account which is obviously an exempt entireties account, or how could the creditor garnish the business account when the business does not owe the creditor any money. The answer is that the creditor served a writ of garnishment on the bank; the creditor did not serve a writ of garnishment on any particular account. The bank is the party which chose what accounts to freeze subject to resolution of the garnishment. Most banks will freeze any and all accounts which have the debtor’s name on the title or accounts for which the debtor has signature authority.
Florida law protects banks from liability from freezing an account later determined to be exempt or not subject to the debt. Banks may be liable for not freezing an account which should be covered by the writ.
The point is that creditors do not pick and choose what accounts to garnish. Typically, a creditor does not know how many, if any, accounts a judgment debtor maintains at a particular bank. Some creditor attorneys will garnish several of the large national banks because most people maintain bank accounts at one of the large banks. The debtor has the burden of convincing either the creditor attorney or a judge that one or more garnished accounts are exempt or contain money not property of the debtor.
To avoid garnishment of exempt accounts you need to maintain these accounts at small banks in locations which are resistant to garnishment.