In this morning’s decision in Boyle v. Weiss (pdf), the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) answered an important question certified to it by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Massachusetts: whether the beneficiary of a trust that holds title to residential property, where the beneficiary herself lives on the property (in this case, as a tenant of the trust), is entitled to protection under Massachusetts’ homestead statute, M.G.L. c. 188, § 1.
The SJC answered the certified question “no” under the version of the statute applicable to the plaintiff-debtor’s claim, which was the version in effect in February, 2010 when she filed her declaration of homestead. The court confirmed that such protection is available under the current version of the statute, which was amended later in 2010, and took effect on March 16, 2011. Among other things, that amendment expanded the definition of “owner” to include the “holder of a beneficial interest in a trust.” The SJC rejected the plaintiff-debtor’s argument that this amendment simply clarified the meaning of the prior version of the statute, instead ruling that it was a substantive change in the law that only applies prospectively. Sometimes the early bird doesn’t catch the worm.