FAQ’s

Here are some answers to commonly asked questions:

An estate of homestead is a type of protection for a person’s principal residence. There is an automatic homestead protection of one hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars ($125,000) with respect to a home that does not declare a homestead exemption with the Registry of Deeds. This automatic protection may be sufficient to protect a deposit made upon the estate; however, it is not likely to be sufficient coverage to protect the full value of your home. In order for homeowners in Massachusetts to protect the value of their property up to five hundred thousand dollars ($500,000) per residence, per family, you must file a document called a “Declaration of Homestead”. The form is filed at the Registry of Deeds in the county or district where the property is located, referencing the title/deed to the property.

The recording of the 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 lawrencedeeds.com or get a certified copy here at the registry or by mail. A certified copy of your deed has the same legal authority as the original itself.

The Northern Essex Registry of Deeds provides copies of deeds to homeowners free of charge. You can obtain a copy either on our website, by mail or in person here at the registry.

Once recorded a deed is never changed at the registry, instead a new document is put on record that changes the meaning of the earlier document. In the case of the death of a spouse recording a Death Certificate provides public notification that one of the owners of a property has deceased and if so written the remaining person on the deed is the sole owner.

To change ownership on a property a new deed needs to be recorded. Although a homeowner has the legal right to create his own deed it is not advisable. This is a complicated procedure and the Registry strongly recommends that you consult with an attorney before filling a new deed.

First, real estate titles are not like automobile titles in that the automobile title is held by the bank until the loan is paid. In order to make public notification that you have paid your mortgage off, you need to bring the original Discharge of Mortgage provided by the bank to the registry of deeds along with either cash or a check in the amount of $75.00. The Registry will record the Discharge and return it to you. If you have Registered Land the Discharge will remain at the Registry of Deeds but you will receive (free of charge) a certified copy of the Discharge after recording.

No, unfortunately, Plot Plans are usually not recorded. But in many cases, the Registry of Deeds has a copy of your Plan of Land. The Difference is a Plot Plan is specific to your house and shows your foundation with dimensions and set-backs. A Plan of Land usually shows many lots without foundations.

Generally, putting a “lien” on someone’s property requires that you file a lawsuit and get a Writ of Attachment or an Execution issued by a Court, which you would have recorded at the Registry of Deeds by the Sheriff’s Office. If the money is owed to you as payment for goods and services performed on a building or real estate, you may be able to create a “mechanic’s lien”. The procedure for doing this is set out in Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 254. The “mechanics lien” law has some strict procedural deadlines, so read it carefully. Registry personnel cannot help you with this so you are advised to seek the help of an attorney.

Recorded Land is the most common form of land recording in Massachusetts. Recorded Land is identified by a reference to a Book and Page number in the document. Registered Land has gone through a Land Court Registration and Decree process. Registered Land is identified by a reference to a document number or certificate of title number in the property description. The “Land Court” or “Registered Land” Department is a separate unit from the regular or “recorded land” section of the Registry of Deeds. Requirements for recording a Registered Land Document are very strict and fall under the rules of the Land Court in Boston.

The Northern Essex Registry of Deeds has land records starting in 1869. Records at the registry of deeds are primarily concerned with ownership of land and not what is built upon the land. For the most part there are no records at the registry of deeds that would tell you precisely when your home was built. The best you can do with our records is draw inferences from the various deeds and other documents. For instance, if someone bought the property for $1000 and a year later sold it for $5000, you could infer that something had been built upon it in the interim. Also some deeds contain the words “and buildings thereon” pertaining to the transfer. If a prior deed does not contain these words, once again you could infer that something was built on the land sometime during the interim between the two deeds. If you would like to come to the registry to do historical research the registry is open Monday-Friday from 8:00 am to 4:30 pm. Stop by our Customer Service desk and someone will be happy to show you how to use the computers to get you started.

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. Click here for link to DOR Estate Tax Publications and Forms.

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

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