Massachusetts Deed Forms for Real Estate Transfers

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What Types of Deeds Are Recognized in Massachusetts?

A property owner transfers ownership of Massachusetts real estate by signing and delivering a deed.1 Massachusetts recognizes three basic types of deeds for transferring title to real estate: warranty deeds, quitclaim deeds, and release deeds. The distinction between the deeds is the warranty of title each deed provides. A deed’s warranty is essentially a guarantee that the deed transfers valid, undisputed title to the property.2

Massachusetts law provides templates—called statutory forms—with suggested wording for multiple types of deeds.3 The statutory forms have transfer language that is sufficient to transfer real estate to a new owner. However, the model language alone does not include everything Massachusetts law requires for a recordable deed.4

Massachusetts Warranty Deed Form

A Massachusetts warranty deed transfers property with complete warranty of title—the strongest guarantee under Massachusetts law.5 The current owner guarantees the new owner complete, clear title—subject only to exceptions expressly written in the deed.6

A warranty deed’s guarantee consists of several promises—called covenants of title—from the current owner who signs the deed.7 A Massachusetts deed that transfers property with warranty covenants includes promises from the current owner (the grantor or transferor) that:

  • The transferor held complete title to the property.
  • The property is free from liens, mortgages, or other encumbrances.
  • The transferor has the legal right to transfer ownership to the new owner.
  • The transferor will stand behind the property’s title and defend the transferred title against legal claims brought by third parties.8

The covenants of title protect the new owner by giving him or her a legal right to sue the transferor if one or more covenants are not accurate. For example, the new owner can sue for breach of covenant or breach of warranty to recover the cost to remove an undisclosed lien that was on the property at the time of the deed.9

Attorney Practice Note: An owner who transfers Massachusetts real estate by deed has a legal duty to advise the transferee if the owner is aware of any encumbrances—like liens, mortgages, or judgments—affecting the property.10 The duty applies to issues of which the owner is aware. The owner must provide the notice before accepting payment, and it can be in the form of exceptions written in the deed.

Massachusetts Quitclaim Deed Form

A Massachusetts quitclaim deed is similar to what many other states call a special warranty deed or a limited warranty deed. Quitclaim deeds transfer Massachusetts real estate with what Massachusetts law calls quitclaim covenants.11 A transferor who gives quitclaim covenants promises that the property is free from liens, mortgages, or other encumbrances caused by the transferor. He or she also promises to defend the property’s title against third-party claims, but only if the claim is derived from his or her ownership of the property.12

A Massachusetts quitclaim deed does not guarantee complete, undisputed title. Instead, it guarantees that the current owner has neither done nor allowed anything to impair the property’s title.13 The current owner and new owner split the risk of problems with the property’s title—depending on when an issue arose.

Attorney Practice Note: Massachusetts’ real estate laws include a system for “incorporation by reference” of several different deed provisions.14 The incorporation-by-reference rules reduce the length of deeds by providing shorter key phrases that replace more lengthy or complicated phrases. For example, a deed can use the phrase with warranty covenants or with quitclaim covenants to create a warranty deed or quitclaim deed without the full language of each covenant.

Massachusetts Release Deed Form

A Massachusetts release deed—also called a deed of quitclaim and release—releases to the transferee whatever ownership interest the person who signs the deed holds.15 A quitclaim deed is sufficient to transfer whatever interest the owner could transfer with a different type of deed.16 However, the transfer is made with no express or implied covenants of title.

The transferor does not promise good title, that the property is free of liens, or that no third parties have a superior claim on the property. The new owner receives the title the transferor has, if any, and bears all risk of title problems.

Property owners typically use Massachusetts release deeds when the transaction involves no consideration—or value provided in exchange for the deed. For example, an owner might use a quitclaim deed to add a spouse to the title, transfer property to a family member as a gift, or transfer title to a living trust.

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What Types of Estate Planning Deeds Are Used in Massachusetts?

The primary function of estate-planning deeds is to let a property owner keep possession of real estate during life and transfer it outside probate at death. Life estate deeds are the most common estate-planning deed in Massachusetts.

Massachusetts Life Estate Deed Form

A Massachusetts life estate deed creates two ownership interests—sometimes called estates—in the same property. The first interest is called the life estate. The life estate holder (or life tenant) owns the property for the rest of his or her life. The second interest—called the remainder—is the right to own the property in the future when the life tenant dies.17 Property owners creating life estate deeds in Massachusetts often keep the life estate for themselves and give the remainder to a family member.

A life tenant can possess and control the property until his or her death. However, a life tenant can only sell the interest he or she actually owns—the life estate.18 A life tenant can sell or transfer complete ownership of the property only if the remainder interest holder also joins in the transfer.19

Massachusetts Enhanced Life Estate Deed

An enhanced life estate deed—informally called a lady bird deed—is a variation of the traditional life estate deed. The difference is that an owner who creates a lady bird deed expressly reserves the right to sell or mortgage the property during his or her life. The remainder interest holder receives the property when the life tenant dies—but only if the life tenant does not exercise the right to sell or transfer the property during life.

Only a handful of states—notably including Florida, Texas, and Michigan—recognize enhanced life estate deeds. In Massachusetts, an owner can create a life estate deed with a power of appointment that reserves the right to sell or mortgage the property during the owner’s life. See Land Court Guidelines, § 28. A Massachusetts life estate deed with special power of appointment functions like an enhanced life estate deed in states where they are recognized. Massachusetts law on the subject is not entirely clear, and life estate deeds that reserve a power of appointment are used relatively infrequently.20

Massachusetts Transfer-on-Death Deed

A transfer-on-death deed—or TOD deed—names a beneficiary to take title outside probate when the owner dies without affecting the owner’s property rights during life. Massachusetts law does not recognize TOD deeds. In states that recognize them, TOD deeds have the advantage of being fully revocable during the owner’s life and do not restrict the owner’s right to sell or mortgage the real estate.

What Are the Ways in Which Multiple Owners Can Jointly Own Massachusetts Real Estate?

Massachusetts law recognizes multiple forms of co-ownership that two or more persons can use to co-own real estate.

Tenancy in Common

Tenancy in common is the standard, default form of co-ownership in Massachusetts.21 Tenants in common each own a percentage or fractional share of the same property. They can transfer their interests independently. When a tenant in common dies, his or her share passes under a will or under Massachusetts inheritance law.

A deed that transfers Massachusetts real estate to two or more persons creates a tenancy in common unless the deed expressly says that the new owners will be joint tenants.

Joint Tenancy

Joint tenants co-own real estate subject to a right of survivorship. The co-owners in a joint tenancy have equal interests in the same property that they receive at the same time. The last surviving joint tenant becomes the sole owner of the real estate upon the joint tenant’s death. The right of survivorship prevents a joint tenancy interest from going through probate because the interest automatically goes to the surviving joint tenant. The surviving joint tenant just needs to record a survivorship affidavit and death certificate to confirm the ownership change.22

A deed that transfers Massachusetts real estate to two or more co-owners creates a joint tenancy only if the deed clearly intends for the new owners to be joint tenants.23

Tenancy by the Entirety

Massachusetts recognizes a third co-ownership form called tenancy by the entirety for married co-owners only.24 A tenancy by the entirety works similarly to a joint tenancy with a right of survivorship. Tenancy by the entirety property also receives extra creditor protection.25

A married owner can convey property to him- or herself and spouse to create a joint tenancy or tenancy by the entirety.26 A tenancy by the entirety is severed if the married co-owners divorce.

Real Estate Ownership Through Trusts

Two or more persons can use a living trust to effectively co-own Massachusetts real estate without personally holding legal title. The trust’s trustee holds legal title and manages the property for the benefit of the trust’s beneficiaries.27 A beneficiary can also be trustee or co-trustee—as long as the same person is not the trust’s sole trustee and sole beneficiary.28

A deed that transfers Massachusetts real estate to a trustee should either describe the terms of the trust or specify the recording information for a recorded trustee certificate or other document that describes the trust.29

What Are the Rules for Spousal Ownership of Massachusetts Real Estate?

Massachusetts has abolished traditional dower and curtsey rights and does not use the community property system.30 However, Massachusetts has other property laws that sometimes give married persons rights in their spouses’ property. Spousal property rights can affect how a married person chooses to hold title to Massachusetts real estate or arrange assets in an estate plan.

Massachusetts Homestead Rights

Massachusetts has homestead laws that protect real estate that serves as the owner’s principal residence—or homestead.31 A deed that transfers a married person’s Massachusetts homestead should include both spouses’ signatures.32 Failure to include a non-owner spouse’s signature can cause problems with the property’s title.

Attorney Practice Note: Massachusetts homestead rights survive a deed between spouses (or ex-spouses), between a trustee and beneficiary, or between a life tenant and a remainder interest holder.33 If a property owner making any of the above transfers wishes to release homestead rights, the deed must be recorded with an express waiver of homestead rights signed by anyone with homestead rights in the property.34

Spousal Intestate Share

A deceased person’s intestate estate is the portion of his or her probate assets that are not addressed in a will. The intestate estate passes to the deceased owner’s heirs under state inheritance laws.35 Like most states, Massachusetts gives a surviving spouse a substantial intestate share—the right to inherit a portion of the deceased spouse’s intestate estate. The precise amount depends on the living children that both spouses have.

  • No surviving children. The surviving spouse receives the entire estate of a deceased spouse who has no surviving children or parents.36
  • Children of both spouses only. The surviving spouse also receives the entire estate if each spouse only has children with the other spouse.37
  • Children other than surviving spouse’s children. The surviving spouse’s intestate share is $100,000.00, plus 50 percent of the balance if the deceased spouse has surviving children who are not the surviving spouse’s children.38
  • Surviving spouse has other children. The surviving spouse’s share is $100,000.00, plus 50 percent of the balance if the deceased spouse only has surviving children who are the surviving spouse’s children, but the surviving spouse has children who are not the deceased spouse’s children.39
  • Surviving parent only. The surviving spouse’s share is $200,000.00, plus 75 percent of the balance if the deceased spouse leaves a surviving parent but no surviving children.40

Spousal Elective Share

An elective share is a minimum interest in a deceased spouse’s estate that state law guarantees the surviving spouse if the deceased spouse’s will provides for a lower amount. A surviving spouse in Massachusetts has the right to choose either the elective share or the spouse’s share under the deceased spouse’s will. The elective share’s value depends on whether the deceased spouse leaves children or other close relatives.41

  • Surviving children. The elective share is one-third of personal property and real estate if the decease spouse leaves children. If the value would exceed $25,000.00, the surviving spouse receives $25,000.00, plus a life estate in the one-third interest in assets beyond $25,000.00.
  • Close relatives but no surviving children. The elective share is $25,000.00, plus half of the remaining personal property and half of the remaining real estate if the deceased spouse leaves surviving close relatives but no children. If the value would exceed $25,000.00, the surviving spouse receives $25,000.00, plus a life estate in the one-half interest of assets beyond $25,000.00.
  • No children or close relatives. The elective share is $25,000.00, plus half of the remaining assets outright if the deceased spouse leaves no children or close relatives.

Where Are Deeds Filed in Massachusetts?

Massachusetts deeds are recorded with the registry of deeds office that maintains the land records for real estate where the property is located.42 Most counties have one registry of deeds office that covers the entire county. Five counties have more than one registry of deeds.43

A deed that transfers property in any of the following counties must be filed with the registry that manages land records for the part of the county where the property is located.

  • Berkshire County: Northern District (Adams), Middle District (Pittsfield), and Southern District (Great Barrington);
  • Bristol County: Northern District (Taunton), Southern District (New Bedford), and Fall River District;
  • Essex County: Northern District (Laurence) and Southern District (Salem);
  • Middlesex County: Northern District (Lowell) and Southern District (Cambridge);
  • Worcester County: Northern District (Fitchburg) and Worcester District.

The Massachusetts Secretary of State’s website has a Locate My Registry of Deeds Office page that allows users to identify the correct recording site for each city and town in Massachusetts. A deed is not binding on third parties until the deed is recorded in the appropriate registry of deeds office.44

Recorded Land vs. Registered Land

Massachusetts has two recording systems for real estate: the registered-land system and the recorded-land system. Each parcel of Massachusetts real estate is in one system or the other. A deed must be filed in the property’s correct recording system.

The registry of deeds office accepts deeds filed for both systems. Both systems use the same basic structure for deeds that transfer real estate, but the registered-land system has more stringent rules for transfers and recording.

Recorded Land System

Massachusetts’ recorded-land system—sometimes called the regular system—is similar to the recording systems used in most other states. A large majority of Massachusetts real estate—between 80 and 90 percent—is in the recorded-land system.

Legal title to recorded land is based on the property’s chain-of-title—the ownership history established by the deeds and other recorded documents affecting the property throughout its history. The registry of deeds office assigns each recorded deed a book and page number that allows for future references to the deed. The office indexes each recorded deed by the parties’ names and addresses, the property, date, and other relevant information to help determine a property’s title.

Registered Land System

The registered-land system—also called the Land Court system or Torrens system—relies on a certificate of title issued by the Massachusetts Land Court. Massachusetts real estate becomes registered land only after the Land Court enters an order that confirms legal ownership of the property. A registered property receives a certificate of title from the Land Court that is guaranteed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The process for formally registering real estate requires a legal proceeding in Land Court that involves fees that are substantially higher than ordinary recording fees.

The Massachusetts Land Court has supervisory authority over the maintenance and recording of records for all registered land. Local registry of deeds offices serve as assistant recorders for the Land Court and accept filings on the Land Court’s behalf. Each registry of deeds office has a separate section that handles record-keeping for registered land within the recording district.45

A property owner transfers registered land by filing a deed with the local registry of deeds office in its capacity as the Land Court’s assistant recorder. The transfer becomes official when the office issues a new certificate of title in favor of the new owner named in the deed.46

Determining the Correct System

It is important to determine the correct recording system when filing a deed. The person requesting recording should tell the registry of deeds office whether a deed is for the recorded-land section or registered-land section.

The simplest way to determine whether real estate is recorded land or registered land is to review the stamp the registry of deeds added to the prior deed.

  • Recorded land. A deed that affects recorded land receives a book and page number—typically in a format similar to Bk 12345 Pg 123.
  • Registered land. A deed that affects registered land receives a document number and refers to the property’s certificate of title number. The property description typically also refers to a land court plan.

It is possible for a single deed that affects more than one parcel to transfer both recorded land and registered land. A deed that transfers both registered land and recorded land must be recorded in both systems. This can be accomplished by (a) recording duplicate original deeds, or (b) recording the original deed in the registered-land system and then filing a certified copy in the recorded-land system.

Attorney Practice Note: Massachusetts law authorizes a process for voluntarily withdrawing real estate from the registered-land system.47 Once withdrawn, the property reverts to the recorded-land system. The withdrawal process requires the owner to file a Land Court case to obtain a withdrawal order entered by the court.48

Does Massachusetts Allow Electronic Recording?

Massachusetts law allows for electronic signing and recording of deeds. An electronically signed deed that complies with the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act counts as an original, signed recordable document.49 Not all recording districts have electronic recording. Districts that have electronic recording still accept deeds in paper form.

Massachusetts limits electronic recording of deeds to certain categories of filers, such as:

  • Licensed attorneys;
  • Government agencies;
  • Banks and credit unions; and
  • Mortgage servicing companies.

What Is the Cost to File a Massachusetts Deed?

Massachusetts charges a $155.00 deed-recording fee. The fee must be paid to the registry of deeds office at the time of recording. The same fee amount applies to both recorded and registered real estate.

Does Massachusetts Charge a Transfer Tax for Real Estate Transfers?

Massachusetts charges a deed excise tax that is the equivalent of transfer taxes in other states.50 The tax amount is based on the consideration given in exchange for the property. The rate is typically $2.28 per $500.00 of consideration, but the precise rate can vary between counties.

Deed excise tax is due when a deed is filed for recording. The person who requests recording pays the tax to the registry of deeds office, and the office then stamps the deed to show payment.51 The registry of deeds will not record a deed without first receiving the deed excise tax or determining that the deed is exempt from the tax.52

Which Deeds are Exempt from Massachusetts’s Transfer Tax?

Not all Massachusetts deeds are subject to the deed excise tax. Deeds for consideration of $100.00 or less do not require deed excise tax.53 Deeds that transfer property to or from most government agencies are also exempt from the tax.

A deed that transfers property between spouses pursuant to a divorce case is not subject to deed excise tax—even if the deed involves consideration over $100.00.54 To take advantage of the exception for divorce deeds, the deed must:

  • State that the payment is a division of marital assets in the parties’ divorce; and
  • Identify the divorce case’s docket number and the court that handled the case.

Does Massachusetts Require Any Additional Forms When Recording a Deed?

Massachusetts law does not require a transfer tax return or other informational form with deeds. Certain types of deeds may need one or more legal documents to be recorded with the deed. For example, a signed power-of-attorney form should accompany a deed that is signed by an agent under power of attorney.55 Or, a deed that transfers real estate to a trust should ordinarily be recorded with a certificate of trust or the document that created the trust.56

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  1. MA Gen L ch 183 § 1.
  2. Dalessio v. Baggia, 783 N.E.2d 890 (Mass. App. Ct. 2003).
  3. MA Gen L ch 183, Appendix.
  4. MA Gen L ch 183 § 8.
  5. MA Gen L ch 183, Appendix (Statutory Form 1).
  6. Dalessio v. Baggia, 783 N.E.2d 890 (Mass. App. Ct. 2003).
  7. MA Gen L ch 184 § 21.
  8. MA Gen L ch 183 § 10.
  9. MA Gen L ch 184 § 21.
  10. MA Gen L ch 184 § 22.
  11. MA Gen L ch 183, Appendix (Statutory Form 2).
  12. MA Gen L ch 183 §§ 11; 17.
  13. Dalessio v. Baggia, 783 N.E.2d 890 (Mass. App. Ct. 2003).
  14. MA Gen L ch 183 § 9.
  15. MA Gen L ch 183, Appendix (Statutory Form 4).
  16. MA Gen L ch 183 § 2.
  17. MA Gen L ch 184 § 5.
  18. MA Gen L ch 184 § 9.
  19. MA Gen L ch 183 § 46.
  20. See Skye v. Hession, 91 Mass. App. Ct. 423 (Mass. App., 2017).
  21. MA Gen L ch 184 § 7.
  22. MA Gen L ch 183 § 5A.
  23. MA Gen L ch 184 § 7.
  24. MA Gen L ch 184 § 7.
  25. MA Gen L ch 209 § 1.
  26. MA Gen L ch 184 § 8.
  27. See MA Gen L ch 203E § 103.
  28. MA Gen L ch 203E § 402.
  29. MA Gen L ch 184 § 25(3); see also Land Court Guideline No. 51 (permitting registration of deed to trustee in Land Court only if the deed is accompanied by the trust instrument or trustee’s certificate created under MA Gen L ch 184 § 35).
  30. See Ma Gen L ch 189 (repealed).
  31. MA Gen L ch 188 § 1, 3, and 4.
  32. MA Gen L ch 188 § 10(a)(1).
  33. MA Gen L ch 188 § 10(b).
  34. MA Gen L ch 188 §§ 10(a)(2) and (4).
  35. MA Gen L ch 190B § 2-101(a).
  36. MA Gen L ch 190B § 2-102(1).
  37. MA Gen L ch 190B § 2-102(1).
  38. MA Gen L ch 190B § 2-102(4).
  39. MA Gen L ch 190B § 2-102(3).
  40. MA Gen L ch 190B § 2-102(2).
  41. MA Gen L ch 191 § 15.
  42. MA Gen L ch 183 § 4.
  43. MA Gen L ch 36 § 1.
  44. MA Gen L ch 183 § 4.
  45. MA Gen L ch 185 § 10.
  46. MA Gen L ch 185 § 64; see also Land Court Guideline No. 7.
  47. MA Gen L Ch 185 § 52.
  48. See Land Court Guideline No. 63 (procedure for voluntary withdrawal).
  49. MA Gen L ch 110G §§ 1, et. seq.
  50. MA Gen L ch 64D § 1.
  51. MA Gen L ch 64D § 2.
  52. MA Gen L ch 64D § 6B.
  53. MA Gen L ch 64D § 1.
  54. See Mass. Deed Indexing Standards, § 12-1; 950 Mass. Reg. § 120.04 (authorizing adoption of indexing standards).
  55. MA Gen L ch 183 § 32.
  56. MA Gen L ch 184 §§ 25(3); 35; see also Land Court Guideline Nos. 51, 53.