Taking your late spouse off your deed (you can’t do it)

The Lowell Registry of Deeds (Middlesex County, North) has a wonderful website that contains all sorts of great information. Richard Howe, the Register of Deeds, runs a tight ship and the Registry is very efficient and modern. One of the best parts of the Registry website is their blog. It’s full of interesting things, some related to the Registry, and others just for fun. Here is a link to the Registry Blog: http://www.lowelldeeds.com/blog/

One of the most asked questions at the Registry is how to take one’s late spouse “off the deed.” This cannot be done, but it really bothers widows that their late husband’s name is still on the deed; they think it needs to be changed. Here is the Registry’s answer to that question:

“In Massachusetts, married couples almost always own their home as “tenants by the entirety” which is a type of joint ownership that carries with it a right of survivorship. As tenants by the entirety, each spouse owns the entire property subject only to the other spouse’s interest in the house. On the death of one spouse, the entire ownership remains in the survivor and the interest of the deceased spouse disappears.

To show this change in ownership in the records at the registry of deeds, the surviving spouse should record a death certificate of the deceased spouse. The registry will create a link between the deed showing the tenancy by the entirety and the death certificate. The two documents taken together show that ownership of the property resides solely with the surviving spouse.

The registry requires an original death certificate (i.e., not a photocopy) and the filing fee is $75 payable in cash or check (made payable to “Registry of Deeds”). The death certificate can be recorded by bringing it to the registry or by mailing it to the above address (if mailing, please include a self-addressed, stamped envelope so we can return the original to you).

We often receive calls from individuals who have just lost a spouse telling us that their insurer, bank or town assessor insists that the decedent’s name be “taken off the deed.” Such a request is often based on a misunderstanding of Massachusetts property law since nothing is ever taken “off a deed” and, in the case of spouses owning property as a tenants by the entirety, the surviving spouse automatically becomes the sole owner of the property so there is no need to create a new deed.”