THE HOMESTEAD PROVISION
The homestead provision has been characterized as "our legal chameleon." Our constitution protects Florida homesteads in three distinct ways. First, a clause, separate and apart from the homestead provision applicable in this case, provides homesteads with an exemption from taxes. Second, the homestead provision protects the homestead from forced sale by creditors. Third, the homestead provision delineates the restrictions 1002*1002 a homestead owner faces when attempting to alienate or devise the homestead property.
Homestead law in the United States has evolved over time and it is strictly an American innovation. In Florida, moreover, our case law surrounding the homestead provision has its own contours and legal principles. As a result, it is not susceptible to comparisons with similar provisions in other jurisdictions. Importantly, our courts have emphasized that, in Florida, the homestead provision is in place to protect and preserve the interest of the family in the family home. We recently reaffirmed that general policy by stating:
As a matter of public policy, the purpose of the homestead exemption is to promote the stability and welfare of the state by securing to the householder a home, so that the homeowner and his or her heirs may live beyond the reach of financial misfortune and the demands of creditors who have given credit under such law. Public Health Trust v. Lopez, 531 So.2d 946, 948 (Fla.1988).
Further, it is clear that the homestead provision is to be liberally construed in favor of maintaining the homestead property. See Butterworth v. Caggiano, 605 So.2d 56 (Fla.1992); Hubert v. Hubert, 622 So.2d 1049 (Fla. 4th DCA 1993); Moore v. Rote, 552 So.2d 1150 (Fla. 3d DCA 1989); In re Estate of Skuro, 467 So.2d 1098 (Fla. 4th DCA 1985), approved, 487 So.2d 1065 (Fla. 1986). As a matter of policy as well as construction, our homestead protections have been interpreted broadly.
In addition, in 1984, the people further expanded homestead provision to substantially broaden the class of people eligible to take advantage of our homestead protections. While those protections had been previously limited to the "head of a family," they are now available to any "natural person." Compare art. X, § 4(a), Fla. Const.(1972)("There shall be exempt from forced sale under process of any court ... the following property owned by the head of a family") with art. X, § 4(a), Fla. Const. ("There shall be exempt from forced sale under process of any court... the following property owned by a natural person").
Finally, it is important to note that creditors are aware of the homestead provision and its inherent protections. As the courts discussed in Public Health Trust, they will not narrowly interpret the homestead provision simply because "financially independent heirs" may receive a windfall. 531 So.2d at 950. There they wrote:
The homestead protection has never been based on principles of equity, see Bigelow v. Dunphe, 143 Fla. 603, 197 So. 328 (1940), but always has been extended to the homesteader and, after his or her death, to the heirs whether the homestead was a twenty-two room mansion or a two-room hut and whether the heirs were rich or poor. Id.
Creditors have been on notice for many years that the plain language of the constitution protects homestead property from most creditors. There are only three exceptions...