What is a Warrant of Execution?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 17 February 2020
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A warrant of execution is a legal writ authorizing a sheriff to seize property belonging to a debtor and sell it to raise funds for the purpose of satisfying the terms of a judgment. It should not be confused with an execution warrant, a document outlining a death sentence for someone convicted of a serious crime. People may also use the term “writ of execution” to refer to a warrant of execution, with the terminology varying primarily by region.

When debtors are taken to court for nonpayment, the judge hears the case and makes a ruling on the merits. If the debtor is deemed in arrears, the judge can order immediate payment to satisfy the debt or get the account current, and additional fees may be added to cover the legal fees of the creditor, depending on whether this is allowed. The debtor must respond to the ruling by making arrangements to pay, requesting a payment plan if the judgment cannot be satisfied immediately, or appealing the ruling.


If the debtor does not respond, a warrant of execution can be issued. The document discusses the amount of the debt and orders a sheriff to seize an appropriate amount of property and sell it. Generally, sheriffs can freely enter both private homes and businesses for this purpose, although if someone is at home at a private residence, the sheriff needs to show the warrant and request permission to enter. Some nations also have laws limiting the type of property sheriffs can seize to satisfy a debt.

The sheriff takes the seized property and sells it at auction. The warrant of execution covers enough property to satisfy the judgment, as well as the expenses associated with the seizure, as the sheriff keeps some of the money to provide compensation for the services provided. If a warrant of execution appears to have been issued erroneously or a debtor wants to work it out with the creditor, a request for suspension can be filed. When the warrant is suspended, it is not rescinded, but will not be enforced until the suspension is lifted.

People who receive judgments against them should discuss the matter with an attorney. Failing to respond at all will result in a warrant of execution being issued. Even a token effort made in good faith, such as outlining financial hardships and asking for a temporary suspension of the judgment, is usually enough to satisfy the court.


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