EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

July 14, 2014

How does the Homestead Act work?

Question:

When I recently visited my Town Office there was a flyer posted encouraging all residents to file for Homestead Exemption. I am a little confused because I thought this was automatic. Can you clarify this for me?

Answer:

Homestead Exemptions may vary depending upon the state of residency. In some states there is a provision to lower the property tax on an individual’s primary residence. It is important to understand the intent of the act in each state. Provisions under the Massachusetts Homestead Act were amended in 2010 taking effect on March 16, 2011. The changes may account for your confusion.

The Massachusetts Homestead Act protects homeowners from having their homes sold to pay off unsecured debts such as credit card claims or lawsuits. This does not apply to mortgage obligations, liens on the property, taxes (federal, state, local) or other court ordered payments. The owner or owners must live in the home as his/her principal residence. Up to $125,000 of equity in the home is automatically protected by the law. If the home owner passes away protection remains in effect for the spouse and minor children if they continue to live in the home as their principal residence.

It is very important for individuals to be aware in order to receive additional protection of $500,000 the home owner/s must file a Declaration of Homestead with the Registry of Deeds. The form needs to be notarized and a filing fee paid. There is also a Homestead for Elderly or Disabled Persons for individuals age 62+ or those who have met the disability requirements of SSI. Upon filing at the Registry of Deeds the owner of the home is provided with $500,000 of protection. If the home is owned by two individuals both meeting the eligibility guidelines the protection is extended to $1,000,000. This protection ends upon the death of the home owner.

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