BOYLE v. WEISS
461 Mass. 519 (2012)
ROBERTA A. BOYLE
STEVEN WEISS, trustee in bankruptcy.
Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk.
November 7, 2011.
February 16, 2012.
Present: IRELAND, C.J., SPINA, CORDY, BOTSFORD, GANTS, DUFFLY, & LENK, JJ.
In a proceeding under Chapter 7 of the United States Bankruptcy Code currently pending in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Massachusetts, a question has arisen concerning the application of the Commonwealth's homestead protection statute, G. L. c. 188, § 1, as amended through St. 2004, c. 218, to a beneficiary of a trust. Finding no controlling precedent in our decisions, the Bankruptcy Court judge certified the following question to this court pursuant to S.J.C. Rule 1:03, as appearing in 382 Mass. 700 (1981):
"May the holder of a beneficial interest in a trust which holds title to real estate and attendant dwelling in which such beneficiary resides acquire an estate of homestead in said land and building under G. L. c. 188, § 1?"1
Confining our answer to the 2004 version of the homestead statute,2 we answer the certified question in the negative.
1. Background. The facts are undisputed. On July 16, 1990, Robert and Janet Boyle conveyed a property on Westview Road in Lowell, Massachusetts (Lowell property), consisting of land and a house, to one of their daughters, Maria A. Boyle, as trustee of the Westview Realty Trust (trust). The trust was established that same day under a declaration of trust filed and recorded in the Middlesex north district registry of deeds (registry). Robert Boyle and another daughter, the plaintiff Roberta Boyle (debtor), each hold fifty per cent of the beneficial interest in the trust. Robert Boyle succeeded Maria Boyle as trustee of the trust on May 22, 2009. The trust instrument does not reference the Lowell property or any other specific real estate, but it does give the trustee "full power and authority ... to buy, deal in and manage real estate." The trust does not contain a spendthrift provision that would bar alienation of a beneficiary's interest to satisfy claims of creditors.
At all relevant times the debtor has lived in the house located on the Lowell property, apparently as a tenant at will of the trust3; it is her residence. On February 26, 2010, the debtor caused to be recorded in the registry a declaration of homestead in the Lowell property. Four days later, on March 2, she filed a voluntary petition for relief under Chapter 7 of the United States Bankruptcy Code, 11 U.S.C. §§ 301 et seq. (2006). Pursuant to 11 U.S.C. § 522(b)(3), in Schedule C of her bankruptcy filing, the debtor claimed an exemption for her "[b]eneficial interest in The Westview Realty Trust, which holds title to real property used as the [d]ebtor's [r]esidence." The bankruptcy trustee objected to the debtor's claim of the exemption, arguing that under Massachusetts law a trust beneficiary residing in property owned by the trust may not acquire a homestead estate. Thereafter, the Bankruptcy Court judge certified to this court the question quoted above.
2. Discussion. a. Homestead statute: 2004 act. The validity of the debtor's homestead declaration must be resolved under G. L. c. 188, § 1, as amended through St. 2004, c. 218 (2004 act), the version of the homestead statute in effect when she recorded her declaration. See Dwyer v. Cempellin, 424 Mass. 26, 29 (1996) (Dwyer). Section 1 of the 2004 act provided in relevant part: