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.

MA Documents: The Notorious Notary

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We all know death and taxes are certain. Have you also noticed there is a growing need to have mainstream documents notarized? As recent as a few years ago, common day documents such as simple permission slips for minors for a field trip to the museum  or rental agreements for college age students were simply signed by the  student, parent or guardian. Not so much any longer as many mundane forms now require the official stamp of notarization from your local friendly notary. Here at Andrew G. Gordon Inc., we are happy to help out any customer with our complimentary notary service. This service is also available to new visitors to our agency.

What is a notary, you ask?  A notary public is an official of integrity appointed by the state to serve the public as an impartial witness in performing a variety of official fraud-deterrent acts related to the signing of important documents. These official acts are called notarizations or notarial acts. Notaries are publicly commissioned as “ministerial” officials, meaning that they are expected to follow written rules without the exercise of significant personal discretion, as would be the case with a “judicial” official.

If you are asked for your driver’s license, please do not be offended. It is the duty of a notary to screen the signers of particularly sensitive instruments — such as property deeds, wills and powers of attorney — for their true identity, willingness to sign without duress or intimidation, and  awareness of the general import of the document. Some notarizations also require the notary to put the signer under an oath declaring under penalty of perjury that the information contained in a document is true and correct. Impartiality is the byword of the notary and the foundation of its public trust. Notaries are duty-bound not to act in situations where they have a personal interest. This means the notary cannot notarize a family member’s document.  The public trusts that the notary’s critical screening tasks have not been corrupted by self-interest. Impartiality dictates that a notary never refuse to serve a person due to race, nationality, religion, politics, sexual orientation or status as a non-customer.

Remember that Andrew G. Gordon, Inc. offers complimentary notary services to our clients or new visitors with appropriate documentation.  Stop by and we will be sure to assist you!

Katherine McCarthy
CPCU, Andrew G. Gordon, Inc.