Putnam's Handy Law Book for the Layman

Homestead. - A legal homestead is the home or residence of a family land owner, and includes a specific area varying in the several states. By the more general rule the land must be connected in a single piece, though in some states the pieces may be distinct. Though divided by a highway this does not effect a separation, as the land therein belongs to the owner subject to the public rights to pass and repass and also use to keep the highway in repair. The peculiarity about a homestead is, it is protected by law from seizure by the owner's creditors.

One of the most important questions relating to a homestead is, the meaning of the head of a family. The term is not limited to a man having a wife and [136]children. It includes an unmarried man with whom his widowed sister and children reside; or a man who supports his mother; likewise an unmarried woman with whom the children of a deceased sister are living. Nor need they live under the same roof, the essential thing is the relation and dependence existing between them. On the death of a husband owning a homestead the right survives to the widow, and usually to the minor children. Some statutes give her the absolute estate, others a life interest; in some states she loses the homestead by a subsequent marriage. In most states the rights of surviving children end on attaining their majority. In many states the surviving husband is entitled to the homestead right, even though there be no children. A husband does not lose his homestead when his wife withdraws from the family under a decree of divorce. Non-residents as a rule are not within the privilege of the homestead laws.

On the dissolution of a marriage by divorce, as the wife ceases to be a member of the husband's family, she loses her rights to the homestead. The decree of divorce may, in the dissolution of the marriage, reserve to her the right, and if she is the owner of the homestead she may continue to occupy it as one. The mere desertion of husband or wife by the other spouse will not, in itself, destroy the character of the homestead although an entire dissolution of the family will have that effect.

By the federal law every head of a family, or a person twenty-one years old and a citizen, or intended citizen, of the United States, if not the owner elsewhere in the United States of one hundred and sixty acres of land and has not previously obtained a federal homestead, is entitled to a quarter section or less of the public land. Three things are [137]necessary: (1) An affidavit showing that the applicant comes under the law; (2) a formal application; (3) payment of the land office charges. When these things are done, the certificate of entry is delivered to the applicant and the entry is made. Then the entryman must actually reside on and cultivate the land for three years, and at the end of that period, he is entitled to a patent. The lands thus acquired are not liable for any debts contracted prior to the issuing of the patent.

The head of a family can sell or mortgage his homestead, whether he is solvent or not, nor can his creditors prevent its sale since they have no rights therein. And if he sells his homestead and with the proceeds buys another, the second is as fully protected from creditors as the other.

From liability for most debts a homesteader is exempt, but not for all. Generally the homestead is not exempt from taxes, but not everywhere from fines for public offenses or liability on official bonds. Debts contracted prior to the acquisition of the homestead and pre-existing liens in most states are enforceable against the homestead. So are debts contracted in improving or preserving the homestead. These include materials furnished, also the wages of clerks, servants, laborers and mechanics.


Do It Yourself Legal Forms
Law for the Laymen - Homestead
Page Updated 8:21 PM Saturday 4/4/2015