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Understanding a certificate of title

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For Massachusetts Land Court records, the registries have a system where each property is issued a Certificate of Title , identified by a  number that lists all liens, encumbrances, and restrictions, as well as any other matter that attached to the property ( whether favorable, such as an easement, or adverse, such as a taking).

To make sure you can make sense of how a Certificate of Title works, you first need to remember that very few properties are actually part of the Land Court system. Most properties are only found on the Recorded Side, meaning that all documents are filed according to the time and date that they are physically brought to the registry, and they get to be listed under a BOOK/PAGE system.  This also means that all the information necessary for a full title exam could potentially be located among ALL the books the registry has in its possession.

Back to Certificates of Title. Any document ever filed with the Land Court is given a Document Number. All documents are recorded in a sequential order. If you are recording a purchase, you are likely to have to file a Municipal Lien Certificate, a Deed, a Mortgage, and perhaps also a Declaration of Homestead. Let’s imagine when you arrive at the recorder’s desk at the Norfolk County Land Court (a seperate division of the Norfolk County Registry of Deeds), the next document Number is No. 1225784. That means your MLC, Deed, Mortgage & Homestead would be document numbers ending in 84, 85, 86 and 87.

Along with your documents being issued those specific document recording numbers, you will also be granted a new Certificate of Title number.

All prior liens that have previously been released will not show up on any new Certificate of Title. But recent mortgage that are not yet paid off, including the one or two mortgages being paid off as part of the closing, if a Purchase Transaction, will transfer over.

Title issues can get confusing when the property is both registered and recorded. Properties issues also arise when there have been recent subdivisions that grant away only a partial part of the land contained in the original Certificate of Title.

My words of advise to new Real Estate Attorneys who may have not recently handled a purchase transaction where the lots are being subdivided is to understand that the deed being signed over to the buyer first needs to be approved by the Massachusetts Land Court office in Boston, Massachusetts.

Failure to have the deed pre-approved may have you running to Boston, getting the deed stamped with approval, and then running back to the Registry to be able to file it with the Land Court.

If your closing is in Boston, you are in the same area, but what if you are in Dukes County, or Barnstable County? Plan accordingly!


Before you decide to run out and blame someone about an alleged previously paid off and missing discharged of mortgage, take the time to review the prior Certificate of Title, or two. While the chances are that you will in fact need to research and eventually have someone request a discharge (on Confirmatory, if one is faulty), there is a small chance that the Discharge of Mortgage may have just been erroneously filed with the wrong Certificate.

If you are lucky enough that this is the case, your solution will not require that you obtain a new discharge. All you need to do is request that the recorder with the Land Court note and list the discharge on the most recent Certificate of Title. (They will treat this as if you had the original discharge on hand, and will require that you pay the regular recording fee of $75, or $76, depending on which Registry you are at.)

Perhaps you will some day run across this common error; hopefully I have saved you a few hours of work. (I have included a link here to a sample Certificate of Title from Suffolk County for your review).

Please comment below about whether this post may have been helpful. As always, I am available to answer questions and concerns you may have. Contact me at

This article was written by: Francisco

  1. 1 Comment

    • Budd says:

      I can’t beelive I’ve been going years without knowing that.

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