The New Student's Reference Work/Homestead Laws
Home′stead Laws refer, in the United States, not to homes in general, but to family residences which are held under certain definite statutes and obligations. The purpose of these restrictions is to preserve the home as far as possible from falling entirely into the hands of creditors. The homestead laws, which are passed not by the state legislature but by the federal government, are directed rather towards encouraging the closer settlement of rural districts by means of grants of the public land made upon easy terms. The first federal act of this kind was passed in 1862; and since this time some 90,000,000 acres of the public lands have been divided for homesteads. Heads of families, or American citizens over 21 years of age, may be granted as much as 160 acres of public land on condition that the holder should agree to live upon it for five years, make certain improvements, and pay certain small registration fees. It seems to be historically true that the stoutest backbone which a nation can have consists of a large body of small landholders.
Although almost all the states have laws to exempt portions of the homestead property from being seized by creditors, it is not intended that these exceptions shall overthrow the rights of creditors according to the common law. The courts have a good deal of freedom, being allowed to decide according to the spirit and purpose of the homestead laws and the common law. The amount of property which may be exempted commonly varies from 80 to 160 acres of land, and from $1,000 to $2,000 worth of improvements and personal property.