Following a 10-year advocacy effort seeking greater protection for homeowners, the Boston Bar Association today celebrated the signing of An Act Relative to the Estate of Homestead by Governor Patrick.
"This is great news to the attorneys whose clients have come to them in dire straits, overwhelmed with debt and seeking help to obtain a fresh start," said BBA President Donald R. Frederico. "These homestead reforms are substantial and will provide important consumer protections to homeowners in Massachusetts. In addition to the consumer protection provisions, the bill will address many issues that have caused great difficulty to the courts in interpreting the current homestead statute."
When the new Homestead Legislation goes into effect in 90 days, March 16th, 2011, here are some of the things that it will do:
- Provide automatic protection to any primary residence up to $125,000 in equity in the home
- Clear up ambiguities and make rules for filing a homestead declaration more logical
- Protect beneficiaries of trusts
- Clarify that a refinancing mortgage will not be able to terminate previously filed homesteads
- Protect proceeds from the sale of a home or insurance
- Protect spouses and co-owners who transfer property amongst themselves
- Extends homestead protection to manufactured homes
In 2000, a detailed study of the Massachusetts homestead statute appeared in theBoston Bar Journal. Author Mark W. McCarthy noted that homestead was so badly in need of change that only a complete rewrite would suffice. McCarthy even described the current homestead statute as, "ugly, clumsy, even embarrassing -- and it just doesn't work."
That very same year the BBA filed a homestead bill that was sponsored by then-Senator Robert S. Creedon, Jr. who was also chair of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary. While the BBA pushed for its own version of homestead reform, other groups, most notably the Real Estate Bar Association (REBA), also proposed their version of homestead reform. Senator Creedon asked the BBA and the REBA to work together on a single bill that would incorporate the reforms that both organizations sought. The BBA's dialogue with REBA on homestead yielded good input on ways to improve the bill and led to a revised and balanced bill that the two bar associations filed jointly in the legislature.
The new law will provide concrete and meaningful assistance to citizens in Massachusetts, especially low income consumers and the elderly. Now with homestead poised to pass some ten years after our efforts began, we hope to see progress on updating the personal property exemption laws.