Massachusetts Deed Requirements
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Massachusetts law identifies certain information that all deeds must contain and defines how deeds must be signed and recorded. A deed that transfers title to Massachusetts real estate must comply with the rules described below, and its formatting should be consistent with state standards and local customs.
Formatting Requirements for Massachusetts Deeds
Massachusetts’ real estate statutes do not establish formatting standards for deeds. Instead, formatting rules are based on the Deed Indexing Standards adopted by the Massachusetts Registers and Assistant Registers of Deeds Association.1 Some counties and registry districts have additional local customs.
Paper used for a Massachusetts deed must be white and at least 20-point weight. Individual sheets can be no larger than 8½ × 14 inches (legal size), and most deeds use 8½ × 11-inch paper (standard letter size). A deed should have text or other content on only one side of each page.
The text within a deed must be large enough to create clear copies and scanned images. Registers of deeds typically request at least 10-point font. Deeds should be printed in black ink, and signatures must be in ink that is dark enough for legible scanning. Black and dark-blue ink are preferred. A register of deeds can reject a deed if it cannot be properly copied or scanned.2
A Massachusetts deed should have a 3-inch top margin on the first page. The top-right corner must include a blank space measuring at least 3 × 3 inches to allow the registry of deeds office to add the recording stamp without obscuring information in the deed.
Other margins must be large enough to allow for scanning of the entire document’s content. Registry of deeds offices generally recommend one-inch margins.
Most deeds have a heading at the top of the deed’s first page. The top-left corner of the first page typically includes within the 3-inch margin the “prepared by” and “return to” statements, the property address, and the tax parcel identification number (if applicable). A title is typically centered directly under the top margin. The title indicates the type of deed—such as Warranty Deed, Quitclaim Deed, or Release Deed.
Information Requirements for Massachusetts Deeds
Massachusetts law sets minimum requirements for information that must be in all deeds. Each of the items listed below is required by Massachusetts law or usually included by custom.
Current Owner and New Owner Names
A Massachusetts deed must state the full names of the current owner making the transfer (the grantor) and the new owner receiving the property (the grantee).3 A deed that transfers real estate to two or more new owners should identify the form of co-ownership they will use.4 Massachusetts recognizes tenancy in common, joint tenancy with right of survivorship, and tenancy by the entirety for married co-owners.
Attorney Practice Note: If the current owner’s name has changed since he or she acquired the real estate, the deed can use a/k/a (also known as), n/k/a (now known as), or f/k/a (formerly known as) to distinguish the owner’s current name and the name on the original deed. A decree of marriage, divorce, or legal name change may be necessary for deeds that transfer registered land.
Current Owner and New Owner Addresses
A deed must identify the new owner’s physical address and mailing address.5 A deed to multiple new owners with the same address can list the names and address together. If the new owners have different addresses, each should be listed separately.
The current owner’s address is not required by law but is often included.
Massachusetts deeds should ordinarily identify the marital status of parties who are individuals (as opposed to entities). Including the marital status—especially for the current owner making the transfer—helps avoid future uncertainty about spousal homestead rights attached to the property.6
A Massachusetts deed must have a granting clause—also called a vesting clause—declaring that the current owner (the grantor) is transferring the property to the new owner (the grantee). Most deeds use the word grants to describe the transfer—except that release deeds typically use releases.7 Granting clauses in Massachusetts deeds often indicate the warranty of title (or lack of warranty) the deed provides.
Deeds must include a statement of the full consideration given for the property, described as a dollar amount. Full consideration means the total purchase price without reduction for the value of liens (if any) assumed by the new owner.8 A deed that involves non-monetary consideration must identify the nature of the consideration.
Massachusetts deeds that do not involve a property purchase can list nominal consideration—such as for ten dollars and other consideration. Non-monetary consideration—such as in consideration of love and affection or as a gift—is also acceptable.9
Municipality and Street Address
Massachusetts law requires deeds to identify the property’s street address (if applicable) and the town or city in which the property is situated.10 The town or city is typically identified directly above the property description. The property’s address must be labeled property address and typically appears in the left side of the first-page heading or written vertically in the first page’s left margin.11
A deed must have a legal description that allows precise identification of the property.12 The property description may be included on the face of the deed or attached as an exhibit and recorded with the deed.
Massachusetts deeds typically identify property using one or more of the following methods:13
- Metes and bounds. A metes and bounds description or bounding description is prepared by a surveyor and describes the property by referring to existing landmarks or geographical coordinates.
- Reference description. A reference description states that the property is the same as property transferred by a previously recorded deed that is referenced by book and page number.
- Lot and plan. A deed can identify a property as a specific lot included on a previously recorded plan that is referenced by book and page number.
A deed that transfers recorded real estate (i.e., property not registered in land court) must identify the property through reference to a previously recorded deed or plan, or the deed must state that it does not create any new boundaries.14 A deed that transfers registered land must identify the property as a lot in a land court plan—as described in the property’s certificate of title.15
Attorney Practice Note: A deed that transfers a condominium unit describes the property by providing its unit number, the name of the condominium, and the instrument number or book and page number of the master deed that established the condominium.
A derivation clause is a phrase in a deed that identifies the source of the current owner’s interest in the real estate. Most derivation clauses refer to the prior deed that transferred the property to the owner. They may also refer to a deceased person’s estate from which the current owner inherited the property. Massachusetts law does not strictly require derivation clauses, but they are customarily included in the vast majority of deeds.
A derivation clause typically identifies the prior deed by transferor (i.e., the prior owner’s name), date, and book and page number. If the current owner acquired title from an estate, the derivation clause identifies the prior owner’s name, the probate court, and the docket number for the probate proceedings.
Attorney Practice Note: A deed that transfers registered land must indicate that the property is registered and must be recorded in the land court system. The deed must refer to the property’s certificate of title number and the certificate’s instrument number.
Deed Preparer and Return Address
A deed should include a “return to” address where the register of deeds office will return the deed after it is recorded or registered. Deeds often also include a “prepared by” statement identifying the name and address of the person who prepared the deed. Massachusetts law does not strictly require “prepared by” statements.
A Massachusetts deed from a natural person often includes a statement indicating the status of potential homestead rights in the property. Depending on the situation, the homestead statement is usually similar to one of the following:
- The grantor releases homestead rights in the property and certifies that no other persons are entitled to homestead rights in the property.
- The grantor certifies that the property is not a homestead property, and it has not been the principal residence of the grantor, the grantor’s spouse, or the grantor’s minor child.16
Massachusetts law does not require a homestead statement, but the statement helps to avoid uncertainty in the property’s title.
Signing Requirements for Massachusetts Deeds
The property owner who is transferring real estate must sign a Massachusetts deed.17 A deed that transfers jointly owned property must be signed by each co-owner who transfers an interest. Transferor signatures should be placed at the end of the deed, above the signer’s typed or printed name. The signature date should be included immediately above or next to the signature.
Spouse’s Signature for Homestead Transfers
Massachusetts has homestead laws that protect real estate that is the owner’s principal residence—or homestead.20 A deed must include both spouses’ signatures if it transfers property that qualifies as a married owner’s homestead.21 A non-owner spouse may alternatively execute and record a homestead waiver releasing his or her homestead rights in the property.22
A deed that transfers real estate owned by an entity must include the signature of a representative with authority to act for the entity. A trustee signs a deed that transfers property from a trust.23 A deed from a trust should be accompanied by a trustee’s certificate.24
A deed from a corporation should be signed by the president, vice president, or another authorized officer.25 A different representative can sign for a corporation if a corporate resolution gives the signer authority. An LLC signs a deed by a manager, member, or officer identified on the LLC’s certificate of organization or (for an out-of-state LLC) its application for registration.26
Power of Attorney
An agent with authority under a properly signed power of attorney (POA) instrument can sign a Massachusetts deed on the property owner’s behalf. A POA form authorizing an agent to sign a Massachusetts deed must be notarized and recorded like a deed.27
A Massachusetts deed cannot be recorded unless the deed includes a notary certificate or other acceptable proof that the transferor properly signed the deed.28 The current owner can acknowledge a Massachusetts deed before a notary public or a justice of the peace.29 The Massachusetts General Laws provide form notary certificates for deeds.30 The form certificates are sufficient, but alternate certificates can be used if they otherwise satisfy Massachusetts law.31
A Massachusetts deed becomes effective only when the deed is delivered to the new owner. Massachusetts law treats a notarized, recorded deed as having been validly delivered.32
Recording Massachusetts Deeds
A Massachusetts deed must be recorded in the registry of deeds that covers the recording district where the property is located. Most recording districts are organized at the county level, so that all real estate in a county is recorded with that county’s registry of deeds office.33 Five counties have more than one recording district.
The registry of deeds office assigns a book and page number or instrument number to the deed when it is recorded.34 A deed is not binding on third parties until it is properly recorded in the registry of deeds.35
Attorney Practice Note: Recorded Land vs. Registered Land Systems: Massachusetts has a traditional recorded land system that handles most properties and a registered land system for real estate with a certificate of title issued by the land court. Recorded land deeds and registered land deeds are both recorded in the registry of deeds for the property’s county or recording district. It is important to determine the correct system before submitting a deed because registry of deeds offices maintain different sections for each system. Recorded land deeds are assigned a book and page number, while registered land deeds receive a sequential document number and reference the property’s certificate of title number assigned by the land court.36
Massachusetts Counties with Multiple Recording Districts
Massachusetts has five counties with multiple recording districts.37 The names and locations for each recording district in multi-district counties are as follows:
- 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.
Each recording district covers a defined geographic area within the county. The Massachusetts Secretary of State provides a Locate My Registry of Deeds Office tool for determining each town or city’s correct recording district.
Dukes County and Nantucket County Land Banks
Nantucket County and Dukes County (Martha’s Vineyard) have land bank commissions that require additional procedures for deeds. A deed that transfers property in Nantucket County or Dukes County must be processed through the land bank before it is filed for recording.38 Land bank processing may require additional fees.
The fee for recording a Massachusetts deed is $155.00 per deed. The fee is the same for registered land deeds as for recorded land deeds.
Massachusetts Transfer Tax
Massachusetts charges a transfer tax—called a deed excise tax—for deeds that transfer title to real estate sold for more than $100.00.39 The amount of tax depends on the consideration paid for the property—which must be set forth in the deed.40 The precise rate can vary by county but is usually $2.28 per $500.00 of consideration. Barnstable County charges $3.24 per $500.00.
A deed cannot be recorded until the deed excise tax is paid.41 Both deed parties are responsible for payment, though the transferor customarily makes the payment.42 After receiving payment, the registry of deeds office adds a stamp showing payment before recording the deed.
Transfer Tax Exemptions
The Massachusetts deed excise tax law does not include a list of exempt transfers—as in many states. A deed qualifies for deed excise tax if the consideration exceeds $100.00. No tax is required if a deed’s consideration is $100.00 or less.43 A deed to or from a government agency is also outside the scope of deed excise tax.
Attorney Practice Note: Divorce Deeds: A deed that transfers real estate from one spouse to another under a divorce decree or separation agreement is not subject to deed excise tax. A divorce-related deed that involves consideration over $100.00 must expressly state within the deed that the payment is a division of marital assets in the parties’ divorce, and the deed must identify the divorce case’s docket number and court.44
Additional Forms Required with Massachusetts Deeds
Massachusetts requires no additional tax return or transfer summary with deeds. Some recording districts add their own cover sheets that are recorded with the deed.
There are other documents which may need to accompany certain deeds—depending on the parties and nature of the transfer. Additional documents could include:
- A trustee’s certificate with a deed to or from a trust;
- A signed power-of-attorney form empowering an agent to sign for the owner; or
- A corporate resolution empowering a representative to sign for a corporation.
Each deed created by our deed preparation service is attorney-designed to meet Massachusetts recording requirements and comes with step-by-step instructions for filing with the Registry of Deeds.
- See 950 Mass. Reg. 120.04 (delegating authority to adopt deed indexing standards to Mass. Registers and Assistant Registers of Deeds Assoc.).
- MA Gen L ch 36 § 12A.
- MA Gen L ch 183 § 6; MA Gen L ch 185 § 61.
- MA Gen L ch 184 § 7.
- MA Gen L ch 183 § 6; MA Gen L ch 185 § 61.
- See MA Gen L ch 188 § 13.
- See MA Gen L ch 183 § 2; 12; Appendix.
- MA Gen L ch 183 § 6.
- Land Court Guidelines, § 16.
- MA Gen L ch 36 § 14(a); ch 183 § 6B; ch 185 § 61A.
- See Mass. Deed Indexing Standards, § 12-1.
- McHale v. Treworgy, 90 N.E.2d 908 (Mass. 1950).
- See MA Gen L ch 183 § 6A; Mass. Deed Indexing Standards, § 9-4; Land Court Guideline No. 18.
- MA Gen L ch 183 § 6A.
- Land Court Guideline No. 18.
- See MA Gen L ch 188 § 1, 3, and 4.
- MA Gen L ch 183 § 3.
- MA Gen L ch 183, § 1A.
- MA Gen L ch 4, § 9A.
- See MA Gen L ch 188 § 1, 3, and 4.
- MA Gen L ch 188 § 10(a)(1).
- MA Gen L ch 188 § 10(a)(2).
- MA Gen L ch 184 § 34.
- See Land Court Guideline No. 53.
- MA Gen L ch 156B § 115.
- MA Gen L ch 156C § 66.
- MA Gen L ch 183 § 32.
- MA Gen L ch 183 § 29.
- MA Gen L ch 183 § 30.
- MA Gen L ch 183, Appendix (Statutory Forms 13-15).
- MA Gen L ch 183 § 42.
- MA Gen L ch 183 § 5.
- MA Gen L ch 183 § 4.
- MA Gen L ch 36 § 14(b).
- MA Gen L ch 183 § 4.
- See Deed Indexing Standards, § 23-4.
- MA Gen L ch 36 § 1.
- See Deed Indexing Standards, § 11-7.
- MA Gen L ch 64D § 1.
- MA Gen L ch 64D § 1; MA Gen L ch 183 § 6.
- MA Gen L ch 64D § 6B.
- See Deed Indexing Standards, § 11-6.
- MA Gen L ch 64D § 1.
- Deed Indexing Standards, § 12-1.