Below please find the Declaration of Homestead forms, a Simple Guide to the Massachusetts Homestead Act, and brochures in English, Spanish, or Portuguese which provide information regarding the Homestead Act in greater detail.
A Simple Guide to the
Massachusetts Homestead Act
- What is a Homestead?
The Massachusetts Homestead Act (M.G.L. c. 188) is a law that protects Massachusetts homeowners from having their homes sold to pay unsecured creditor’s claims, such as utility bills, credit cards and lawsuits.
- Am I Eligible?
You must own a home in Massachusetts and that home may be a:
- single family home;
- 2 – 4 unit multi-family dwelling;
- condominium unit;
- mobile home; or
- cooperative housing unit.
The home must be:
- your principal residence; and
- occupied by you, or you must intend to occupy the home.
Your ownership may be as a:
- sole owner;
- tenant in common;
- joint tenant;
- tenant by the entirety (for married couples);
- life estate holder; or
- beneficiary of a home held in trust.
- What are the 3 Types of Homesteads?
Automatic Homestead (M.G.L. c. 188, §4)
- By law, a homeowner and the homeowner’s family members occupying the home receive a $125,000 homestead protection in the equity value of their home.
Declared Homestead (M.G.L. c. 188, §3)
- By filing a Declaration of Homestead in the Registry of Deeds, a homeowner, and the homeowner’s family members occupying the home, receive a $500,000 homestead protection in the equity value of that home.
- When the home is owned by a married couple, both spouses must sign the Declaration of Homestead.
- When a home is owned in a trust, the trustee must execute a Declaration of Homestead on behalf of the trust’s beneficiaries. The trustee must identify the beneficiaries occupying the home and the spouse of any resident beneficiary occupying the home.
Declared Homestead by Elderly or Disable Persons (M.G.L. c. 188, §2)
- By filing a Declaration of Homestead in the Registry of Deeds, homeowners aged 62 or older receive a $500,000 homestead protection in the equity value of their home.
- By filing a Declaration of Homestead in the Registry of Deeds, disabled homeowners receive a $500,000 homestead protection in the equity value of their home. To establish a disability, either an original or certified copy of a disability award letter, issued by the U.S. Social Security Administration, or a certification letter, signed by a licensed physician registered with the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine, must be attached to the Homestead form.
- Each elderly or disabled homeowner, regardless of marital status, is eligible for a personal exemption up to $500,000. If two elderly or disabled persons own the same home, both qualify for elderly or disabled homestead protection, increasing the total homestead protection eligibility to $1,000,000. If several people own a home together and one owner qualifies for the elderly or disabled Homestead and another owner does not, each owner may file a Homestead Declaration (one under §2 and the other(s) under §3).
- An elderly or disabled Homestead terminates upon the homeowner’s death.
- What is and What is not Protected?
A Homestead protects you:
- If you pass away, the homestead protection continues for your spouse, family members and minor children who occupy the home as their principal residence.
- If you refinance, your existing Homestead remains in effect.
- If you sell your home, the proceeds of the sale are protected until you buy a new home, or for one year, whichever happens first.
- If your home is destroyed by fire or other casualty, the proceeds from your insurance claim are protected until the repairs are complete, or until you buy a new home, or for two years, whichever comes first.
A Homestead protects the equity value in your home up to $500,000 against:
- execution on judgment;
- levy; or
- Understand, however, that attachments and executions issued by Massachusetts courts may be filed at the Registry of Deeds against a property, even though a homeowner has homestead protection. To prevent an attachment or execution from being issued by a court, a homeowner may challenge the attachment or execution in court and raise the homestead protection as a defense.
A Homestead does not protect against:
- federal, state or local taxes or liens;
- liens on the property which existed prior to the date that a Declaration of Homestead was filed;
- court orders for spousal or child support;
- mortgages on the home;
- attachments to land not owned by a person who has filed a Homestead;
- court ordered judgments based on fraud, mistake, duress, undue influence or lack of capacity; or
- Medicaid liens for a homeowner’s stay in a nursing home.
- How do I Apply?
An Automatic Homestead requires no filing.
A Declared Homestead requires:
- completing a Declaration of Homestead form – signed and notarized;
- filing of the Declaration of Homestead at the Registry of Deeds - in person or by mail;
- paying a $35 filing fee (cash or check); and
- providing a self-addressed stamped envelope for the filing’s return.
- How do You Terminate/Release a Homestead?
Homestead rights may be terminated by any of the following methods:
- A deed to a non-family member conveying the home, signed by the owner and a non-owner spouse or former spouse residing in the home as a principal residence as of the date of the deed;
- A release of the Homestead Declaration, filed in the Registry of Deeds, signed and notarized by the owner and a non-owner spouse or former spouse residing in the home as a principal residence as of the date of the release;
- The abandonment of the home as the principal residence by the owner, the owner's spouse, former spouse or minor children, however, that abandonment terminates only the Homestead rights of those who left the home (note that this provision does not apply to members of the U.S. military or commissioned officers of the U.S. Public Health Service or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on active service/duty who leave their home for such service/duty or because of sickness, wounds, leave, or other lawful cause).
- In the case of a home held in trust, by either: (i) execution of a deed or filing a release of a Homestead Declaration by the trustee; or (ii) abandonment of the home by an adult trust beneficiary or filing of a Homestead Declaration by an adult trust beneficiary on other property that such beneficiary owns; or
- The subsequent filing of a Homestead Declaration on another home, except that the new Homestead terminates only the homestead rights of the homeowner filing the new Homestead and the rights of that owner's spouse and minor children who reside or intend to reside in the other home as their principal residence.