Whether a litigant is seeking to enforce a judgment or protect assets from creditors, it is important to be aware of the implications of a homestead estate. Also referred to as homestead protection, a homestead estate safeguards part of a person's or family's primary residence from attachment, seizure, execution on judgment, and levy or sale for the payment of most categories of debt. Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 188 provides for an automatic homestead estate worth $125,000 per residence, and a declared homestead amount of $500,000 per residence. In order to receive the latter, a homeowner must file a declaration of homestead in the Registry of Deeds in the county where the property is located. Elderly (defined as 62 or older) or disabled homeowners of any age are entitled to $500,000 of protection individually if they file a declaration of homestead; in circumstances where two elderly spouses each file such a declaration, the couple could be protected in the amount of $1,000,000.
In a "Chapter 7" bankruptcy proceeding, a debtor's assets are liquidated, and the proceeds are divided among the debtor's creditors. Some of the debtor's assets, however, may be exempt from liquidation under various provisions of federal or state law. One such exemption is created by the Massachusetts Homestead Statute, M.G.L. c. 188, §§ 1, et seq. The Homestead Statute protects a debtor's home from most creditors, subject to certain restrictions. To qualify for this "homestead exemption," the debtor must be an owner of a home who occupies the home or intends to occupy it as a principal residence.