You’ve just paid off your mortgage, and you want to celebrate. Go ahead—pop the champagne!

But you’re not out of the woods. You know your property is free and clear. And the bank knows, too. So, what’s the problem? The problem is that you can’t prove it. And you’ll need to prove it, someday.

Years ago, when you borrowed money from the bank, you signed a mortgage document. The bank delivered the mortgage to your county’s Registry of Deeds, which promptly recorded it. Here’s the catch: The recorded mortgage will stay on record—warning all future buyers and lenders that your bank still has a lien on your property—until someone records in your county’s Registry of Deeds a document that releases the lien.

The solution is a “Mortgage Discharge.” It’s a simple document, in which the bank tells the world (a) that your loan has been paid in full and (b) that the bank has released its lien on your property.

In theory, you should not need to worry about this situation. It’s not your job. It’s your bank’s job. Massachusetts law requires your bank (or its “servicer”) to prepare and sign a Mortgage Discharge. Then your bank must either (a) record the Discharge with your county’s Registry of Deeds or (b) send the Discharge to the person (or business) who made the payoff. That person or organization is obligated to record the Discharge with your county’s Registry of Deeds.

It’s a simple process. What could possibly go wrong?

Why Your Mortgage Discharge Must Be a Public Record

Let’s assume that instead of your bank recording the Discharge with the Registry of Deeds, they chose the second legal route and sent the Discharge to you, since you made the payoff. Let’s also assume that, even though you received the Discharge with an explanatory letter about next steps, (a) you didn’t understand that it was now your responsibility to record the Discharge or (b) you lost it or misplaced it or just forgot about it. So, it has never been recorded.

The problem is this: If the Discharge has never been recorded, your mortgage will remain on record, not the fact that you’ve paid it off. And that undischarged mortgage will block your ability to sell your property, even though you own it, free and clear, because no buyer or their lender will be able to close on the sale until the Discharge is formally recorded.

How to Find Out if Your Mortgage Discharge Is Recorded

So, if it’s been a while since you paid off your mortgage and you don’t recall any of this, you’re probably wondering how to be sure the Discharge has been recorded. The good news is that you can check the registry website yourself——at no charge. There you can search by name or property, and you should be able to locate your mortgage, the Discharge, and any other relevant documents of interest. Most documents are cross-referenced, so if you click on the link to your mortgage, a list of related documents will also appear, including the Discharge if it is, indeed, on record.

If, after searching the website, you cannot locate the Mortgage Discharge for your property, contact your lender or an attorney’s office to track it down, to ensure that it is properly recorded and the lien discharged of record. Our attorneys at Mountain Dearborn will be pleased to assist you.

Image: Corina Rainer