Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Homestead Act?

The Massachusetts Homestead Act (M.G.L. c. 188) is a law that in most instances protects Massachusetts home owners from having their principal residence sold to pay unsecured creditor's claims. The homestead protects the equity value in your home up to $500,000.00 where a declaration of homestead is recorded at the Registry of Deeds or up to $125,000.00 automatically by statute when no declaration is recorded.

The homestead provides protection against attachment, seizure, execution on judgement, levy or sale. Understand, however, an attachment or execution issued by a Massachusetts court is recorded a the Registry notwithstanding the fact that a declaration of homestead is on record. To prevent an attachment or execution from being issued by the court the homestead must be raised by the homeowner as an affirmative defense against the issuance.

The declaration of homestead does not protect against: (1) federal, state or local taxes and liens, (2) liens on the property which existed prior to the declaration's recording, (3) court orders for spousal or child support, (4) mortgages on the home, (5) court ordered judgements based on fraud, mistake, duress, undue influence or lack of capacity, and/or (5) Medicaid liens if you go into a nursing home.

How do I get a copy of my deed?

There are three ways to get a copy of your deed: in person, by mail or online. Please visit "How to Get a Copy of Your Deed" for more information.

I lost my deed what do I do?

The recording of a deed at the Registry of Deeds is notice to the world as to ownership. If you lost your deed, you can find a printable copy on our website or get a certified copy at the Registry in person or by mail. A certified copy of your deed has the same legal authority and effect as the original document.

I paid off my mortgage and the bank sent me a Discharge of Mortgage, what do I do with it?

You need to bring the original Discharge of Mortgage, also called a Release, to the Registry of Deeds and have it recorded - the cost of recording is $105.00 in cash or a check (made out to the "Commonwealth of Massachusetts"). You can also mail the original discharge to Suffolk Registry of Deeds, 24 New Chardon St., Boston MA, 02114. Please include a self-addressed stamped envelope for the documents return to you when the land in question is Recorded Land, when the land in question is Registered Land the document will remain at the Registry of Deeds.

What is the difference between Registered and Recorded land?

Since the formation of the Suffolk County Registry of Deeds in 1643, any document related to land situated in the county is recorded chronologically and assigned a book and page number. Upon recording, the document becomes public record and is indexed by grantor, grantee, document type and address which allows the document to be searched, located and inspected by the general public. This long standing method of land recordation is commonly referred to as Recorded Land.

Registered Land is a system of land recordation, begun in 1898, whereby the Massachusetts Land Court adjudicates and certifies the title to any parcel of property submitted to the court for such purpose. Approximately 10% of the property in Suffolk County has gone through this registration process. Owners of Registered Land are issued numbered certificates of title describing the property and noting any encumbrances (liens or mortgages) affecting the property. Documents filed in the registered section are assigned document numbers - not book and page numbers. The guidelines for filing documents affecting registered land are much stricter than the statutory requirements affecting recorded land. Please view "Land Court Guidelines" for more information.

My spouse passed away, what happens to the deed to our home?

Most married couples hold title to their home as tenants by the entirety, this is a statutory tenancy exclusively for married persons. The two other tenancies are tenancy in common - where your ownership interest upon death passes to your estate - and joint tenancy - where your ownership interest upon death passes to the surviving joint tenant(s).

By operation of law, when one spouse passes the surviving spouse becomes the sole owner of the property, all that is required to put the world on notice of this fact is the recording of the death certificate of the deceased spouse with the book and page of the married couple's deed referenced on the bottom of the death certificate - the married couples deed remains in effect unaltered. For Registered Land, in addition to the death certificate you must record an affidavit of no divorce attesting to the fact that at the time of death the couple were still married - both the death certificate and the affidavit should include your certificate of title reference.

How do I add or remove a name on my present deed?

To change the ownership on a property you will have to prepare a new deed which conveys the property to the intended owners and record that new deed at the Registry of Deeds. The Registry of Deeds recommends that you obtain a copy of your existing deed and bring it to an attorney for assistance in preparing the new deed and choosing the appropriate form of ownership and tenancy.

Can I get a copy of my Plot Plan at the Registry of Deeds?

No. Unfortunately, Plot Plans are not usually recorded. In most cases, the Registry of Deeds has a copy of the Plan of the Land for the street upon which your lot is located. The major difference being that a plot plan depicts the structures on the lot and related measurements, while a plan of the land only shows the basic dimensions of the lot(s) on the street. View "Looking For Your Plot Plan?" for more information.

Someone owes me money. How do I put a lien on their property?

The Registry of Deeds recommends that you obtain a copy of the deed of the property upon which you desire to place a lien and bring it to an attorney for assistance in determining the best course of action. Aside from tax liens, almost all other liens are the result of present litigation or are perfected by future litigation - the employees at the Registry of Deeds are not bonded to provide legal advice - a person can always attempt to handle their legal affairs without the assistance of an attorney but when they choose to do so the Registry of Deeds cannot provide legal assistance.

When is there an estate tax lien on the property?

Real property in Massachusetts is subject to a lien for estate taxes upon the death of anyone who has a legal interest in the property. For a majority of estates, there is no estate tax actually due, but unless a release of estate tax lien form is filed with the Registry of Deeds, there is a claim against the title of property owned by the decedent for ten years following his or her death.

The procedure for releasing the Massachusetts estate tax lien varies depending on whether an estate tax return is required and the date of death of the property owner.

A. For all estates required to pay estate taxes: The standard method of obtaining a release of estate tax lien is to file an estate tax return (M-706) with the Massachusetts Department of Revenue (DOR) and obtain from the DOR a Release of Estate Tax Lien Certificate, known as an M-792 certificate, which is then filed at the Registry of Deeds.

B. Where the date of death is before January 1, 1997: A Massachusetts estate tax return and M-792 (see above) are required, even if no estate tax is owed.

C. Where no return is required and the date of death is between January 1, 1997 and December 31, 2002: The estate tax lien may be released by filing at the Registry of Deeds a notarized affidavit that the gross estate of the decedent does not necessitate a Federal estate tax filing. In such cases the M-792 certificate is not required.

D. Where no return is required and the date of death is after December 31, 2002: The estate tax lien may be released by filing a notarized affidavit that the gross estate of the decedent does not necessitate a Massachusetts estate tax filing. In such cases the M-792 certificate is not required.

Gross Estate Value Which Requires An Estate Tax Return:

1997 (Federal) $600,000
1998 (Federal) $625,000
1999 (Federal) $650,000
2000 (Federal) $675,000
2001 (Federal) $675,000
2002 (Federal) $1,000,000
2003 (MA) $700,000
2004 (MA) $850,000
2005 (MA) $950,000
2006 and thereafter (MA) $1,000,000

If I am out of the country, do you accept a power of attorney?

Yes, for recorded land an original power of attorney which is properly notarized may be recorded. For Registered Land, in a addition to the original power of attorney an affidavit accepting the power of attorney must be filed.

What authority documents are usually required in Registered Land?

Limited Liability Companies (LLC's) need to be signed by a manager of record with the Office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth and a Certifiacte of Good Standing needs to be filed.

A corporation needs to be signed by the President and the Treasurer or have a free standing authority document from the corporation's secretary or clerk.

How do I find a Registered Land plan?

Registered Land plans are filed with the original decree or the Certificate of Title for the first lot transferred on the plan you are looking for. To make this determination look at the legal description on your certificate. It should read something similar to, "Lot 2 on plan 1234-A filed with Certificate of Title 56789". You will then search the database under Registered Land and click on certificate search - enter certificate 56789 and click enter - the image of the plan you are seeking will appear along with the certificate.