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Should I Change my Deed After my Spouse Dies?

My wife died last year, and I was wondering if Massachusetts law requires me to do anything to change the deed to our house. For example, should I change it so just my name is on the deed?
-- (Posted by Will on the Forum)

(The following response was posted by Attorney Peter Bernardin.) Your next steps will really depend on how you and your wife held title to the real estate. Assuming that the real estate is located in Massachusetts and that you held title either as "joint tenants" or as "tenants by the entirety" (you will need to look at the deed to determine how you hold title), then title to the property passes to you automatically by operation of law on your wife's death. You will need to record an original death certificate with the appropriate registry of deeds (to establish that your wife has died), and that is all that is required to establish title in your name. If you and you wife held title as "tenants in common" (which would be somewhat unusual), then you will have to probate her estate in order to address the title to the real estate. In that situation, I would recommend that you consult with an attorney.

One last issue to consider is the estate tax lien. Under Massachusetts law, an automatic lien arises against the estate of a decedent. The lien is in force for ten years from the date of death - so if you are going to sell or mortgage the property before the tenth anniversary of her death, the lien will be a problem.

You can remove the lien by recording an estate tax affidavit with the appropriate registry of deeds (if your wife's gross estate was worth less than one million dollars at the time of her passing), or by filing an estate tax return (M-706) and Lien Release (M-792) with the appropriate registry of deeds (if your wife's gross estate was worth more than one million dollars at the time of her passing).

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