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In certain regions, when it is determined that a person owes money by the courts, a judge can issue different forms of a writ of execution, which orders officials of varying types to take possession of the debtor’s property and either sell it or transfer it to the person to whom the money is owed. One specific type of writ of execution is called the writ of fieri facias (fi. fa.), and it gets most use in jurisdictions in the UK and a few states in the US. When a fieri facias is created, it is an order to a sheriff or other official to seize control of and sell property. Depending on the area, some types of property may be protected, but in most cases, the debtor has to allow the sheriff or others to inspect, remove, and offer sale of property to pay a debt. This writ tends to only be issued when debt exceeds a certain dollar amount.
Presently, the writ of fieri facias is not that common, and in some jurisdictions, effort is underway to change the name of it to writ of control. The Latin translation of the term is, “that you cause to be made,” which really is not particularly explanatory. In the past, particularly in English law, fieri facias writs were incredibly common. They were even the subject of puns, and attached to the idea of the drunken, red-faced or “fiery-faced” sheriff showing up to take away a debtor’s property.
As far back as the mid 19th century, certain types of property might be exempt from seizure. One noted exception was life insurance policies. Today’s debtor may be able to keep varying kinds of property, including principal dwellings and some retirement or savings accounts. Exactly what can be seized and sold depends on jurisdiction.
Sometimes the writ of fieri facias confuses people because property isn’t necessarily foreclosed upon or directly seized. Instead, a sheriff or other court-order official may possess a lien against property. This means the former owners can’t use it any way, such as to refinance or sell. The sheriff doesn’t necessarily immediately take the property, and if the debtor is able to satisfy the debt in some other way, the order might be made null.
The decision on where to file a fieri facias is usually made by determining where the debtor has the most real property. Creditors may then file additional fi. fa. writs with other counties where a debtor owns property. These writs usually produce liens on the property owned, but they may not always be recognized if the writ of fieri facias is not used in that specific area. Creditors might need legal advice to determine how to collect money or property that is located in a different jurisdiction.