A man consulted with me about filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The client and his non-debtor spouse lived on their sailboat docketed at the marina. The boat's motor was broken but the sails worked. The boat was registered on a national boat registry with a federal boat ownership certificate. The ownership was listed as: husband wife. Not husband and wife, not husband or wife, and there was not choice of specifying ownership as tenants by entireties, tenants in common, or even as joint tenants with rights of survivorship. The client wanted to know if his boat was exempt from creditors under Florida law. There are two possible exempts applicable to this boat: homestead and tenancy by entireties. A boat can be a homestead so long as the boat is permanently docket and is not suitable for transportation. A seaworthy boat is more like a "boat" than a "home." This client's boat could sail. However, the client explained that the boat could not reach open water without navigating though the docks and other docked boats which it could only do with a working motor. The client stated his boat could not sail away from its docket location without a motor. In my opinion, this sailboat is currently not seaworthy. The client is using the boat more as a "home" than as transportation. I think this boat would be exempt homestead. However, if the boat's motor is easily repairable a court could find that the asset is primarily a "boat" which is only temporarily immobile. Even if this sail boat is not considered this debtor's homestead, the boat would still be exempt from the husband's creditors if it is titled as tenant by entireties. Under Florida law assets owned by a husband and wife as joint tenants with survivorship are presumed to be owned as tenants by entireties. The boat title is not clear on its face. Simply listing the names of the husband and wife gives no indication of whether they own the boat with rights of survivorship. If the boat's title instrument was a Florida state document, similar to a car title, I think most courts would not find entireties ownership. There are Florida court cases which require that state boat or car titles list the married owners specifically as tenants by entireties or as husband and wife in order to claim an entireties exemption. I do not think the same Florida court decisions regarding cars or boats registered with a Florida title would apply to this client's boat with a national registry. In this instance, the owners' intent is unclear on the face of the document, and absent court decisions interpreting entireties requirements for such federal title certificates I think the general presumption favoring tenants by entireties ownership of jointly titled assets would apply.
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