The MA Homestead Act Changes: Home Sweet Homestead

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We’ve noticed an uptick in phone calls to our insurance agency,  inquiring about the recent changes to the Massachusetts Homestead Act.  Customers are wondering if they need to make any changes if they already have a Declaration of Homestead filed for their primary residence. New home buyers  or customers refinancing their mortgages are questioning if they need to file documents to obtain any protection. 
Massachusetts and many other states put Homestead laws in place to protect homeowners from losing their primary residences if they have no other assets available to pay their debts.  Under the previous Homestead law, homeowners and their families could protect up to $500,000 of home equity from many types of creditors if they filed a simple Declaration of Homestead at their Registry of Deeds.  Under both the old and new law, if a homeowner records the Declaration of Homestead  before a creditor files a lien against his property, the creditor cannot recover the debt by forcing the homeowner or his family to sell their home as long as the amount of the debt or debts are under $500,000. The Homestead Act does not protect homeowners from debts owed for mortgages, child support and condo association fees.

Here is a summary of the Massachusetts Homestead Law effective March, 2011. The changes were made to reduce ambiguities under the previous Homestead law: 

  • All Massachusetts homeowners receive an automatic homestead exemption of $125,000 for protection against certain creditor claims on their principal residence without having to do anything.
  • All Mass. residents are eligible for a $500,000 “declared homestead exemption” by filing a declaration of homestead at the Registry of Deeds. For married couples, both spouses will now have to sign the form–which is a change from prior practice.
  • If you already have a homestead recorded at the Registry of Deeds, you do not have to re-file it. You are all set, and have the full $500,000 protection.
  • Homesteads are now available on 2-4 family homes, and for homes in trust. This is also new.
  • The existing “elderly and disabled” homestead will remain available at $500,000.
  • If you have a homestead as a single person, and get married, the homestead automatically protects your new spouse. Homesteads now pass on to the surviving spouse and children who live in the home.
  • You do not have to re-file a homestead after refinance. There’s always been confusion here, with lenders requiring homeowners to either subordinate or release homesteads. Under the new law, homesteads are automatically subordinate to mortgages, and lenders are specifically prohibited from having borrowers waive or release a homestead.
  • Closing attorneys in mortgage transactions must now provide borrowers with a notice of availability of a homestead.
  • The cost of filing the Declaration of Homestead is $35 and it must be notarized. Need a notary? Our insurance agency offers free notary services. You can file the document at the Registry of Deeds or  an attorney can file the declaration for you.  

 Hope you find this information helpful. It is not designed to provide any legal advice-as in all areas of the law, to fully understand your rights, you should consult an attorney of your choice.

For more information, here’s an excellent question and answer document.

Kasey McCarthy
CPCU, Andrew G. Gordon, Inc.

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