Dower permits a widow to elect a life estate in one-third of all of the real property owned by her deceased husband during the marriage. This life estate amounted to ownership of the land for the duration of the widow’s life. A widow’s right to dower has existed for hundreds of years and Michigan law has included that right. Typically dower would apply to keep a husband from attempting to transfer away his real property without his wife’s knowledge or consent.
To avoid having dower apply to transfers of real estate by a married man, typically his wife would sign any deed intending to transfer any real estate owned by the husband individually. With property they owned together as joint tenants or tenants by the entireties, both signatures were needed in any case. With property owned by the husband in joint name with a third party, dower did not apply. The abolishment of dower means that a husband’s transfer of his real estate will no longer be subject to potential dower claims by his wife and will not require her signature on the deed. A narrow exception exists to preserve dower already elected by a woman whose husband dies before the effective date of the new law.
The validity and constitutionality of dower was called into question recently when the U.S. Supreme Court decided Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015, which legalized same-sex marriage. How dower rights would be afforded to same sex spouses was uncertain. The abolishment of dower in Michigan eliminated this potential issue.
Note that for the present, the marital status of a male must continue to be stated on a recorded real estate conveyance document or mortgage, since the applicable law for that requirement has not yet been repealed.
For additional information on how the abolishment of dower may affect your estate planning documents and to insure that any deeds being prepared are done correctly, please contact Stacey DiDomenico or one of our other Couzens Lansky Estate Planning or Real Estate attorneys at 248-489-8600.