Historic Real Estate Law Changed: Dower Abolished April 6, 2017

            Michigan Governor Rick Snyder just signed a law abolishing Dower, a provision that has been in effect since 1846. This provision gave a wife a legal right to claim a one-third interest in any real property owned by her husband, upon his death. The 2015 Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v Hodges, allowing same-sex marriage, sparked controversy regarding a wife’s dower right. Dower right became an issue of inequality between widow’s of same sex marriage and those of opposite-sex marriage. As of April 6, 2017, however, there is no more dower right, ultimately affecting Estate Planning Law as well as Real Estate Law proceedings.

            Under current Michigan Law, a wife is still provided with options upon becoming a widow, depending on if her husband has left a will or not. The reason behind creating these options was to protect a wife from being completely disinherited by her husband and left without any means of support. Previously, the right to dower was one of these options. The other current options are as follows: (1) if the deceased spouse has left a will, the surviving spouse can claim what was left to him/her or take one-half of what would have been left to him/her had the decedent not left a will minus one-half of the value of the decedent’s remaining property. (2) If there is no will, however, the surviving spouse is entitled to the first $150,000.00 (COLA adjusted) of the deceased spouse’s estate plus one-half of the rest of the estate. This abolishment of Dower does not mean that widows will no longer be protected, but simply means that surviving spouses are treated equally.

            Before April 6, 2017, a wife’s signature was necessary on any legal document that transferred real property in her husband’s name to another person, therefore relinquishing her Dower right. However, since the enactment of this law, a wife is not required to sign all these documents. Regardless, there is still one real estate document that will require both a husband and wife’s signature, even if it is owned by only one of them. This document is a mortgage of residential property if said property is occupied as their joint homestead. The other exception to this law is if a wife became a widow before the effective date of this law, she, of course, still has a legal claim to her Dower right.

            The passing of this law may complicate simple Real Estate and Estate Planning Law proceedings. For help with these issues call our office at 248.643.9530 or email info@zeiglerlaw.com and schedule your consultation.

See https://www.legislature.mi.gov/documents/2015-2016/billanalysis/House/htm/2015-HLA-5520-718B58C9.htm


Can the Police Stop you for Any Reason?

The United States Constitution protects citizens against “unreasonable searches and seizures.” A law enforcement officer may effectuate a traffic stop upon “reasonable suspicion” the person stopped is breaking the law.

But how far can the law bend to determine what is “reasonable suspicion”? Pretty far, as it turns out.

Recently, the Michigan Court of Appeals (.pdf) ruled a police officer may perform a traffic stop, if the vehicle is in “such an unsafe condition as to endanger a person.”   The Court did not define what would be considered an “unsafe condition.” Would a cracked windshield or an air freshener hanging from the mirror be an “unsafe condition”? What about tires with a few miles on them, or a gas cap not closed, or a crumpled fender? Short of factory-fresh condition, we could envision a vehicle somehow, possibly existing in a condition that could possibly “endanger a person,” effectively allowing police to perform a stop for any reason whatsoever.

In the early morning hours of January 5, 2014, Officer Daniel Lobbezzo observed a vehicle, driven by Trevor Allen Vanderhart. The Officer initially believed he saw one tail light not operating, but upon closer observation, observed it was operating, although dimmer than the other tail light. Officer Lobbezzo did not indicate Vanderhart was speeding, or weaving, or failing to stop, or driving in any erratic fashion whatsoever. Indeed, the only reason Officer Lobbezzo proffered for making the traffic stop was this dim tail light.

Michigan Law requires a vehicle to have tail lights that (1) operate when the headlights or auxiliary lights are one (2) is red and (3) visible from a distance of 500 feet. The Court of Appeals ruled Vanderhart’s vehicle (according to the evidence) complied with the law regarding tail lights. However, the Court made the determination the different brightness of the tail lights constituted an “unsafe condition as to endanger a person” and therefore the traffic stop was reasonable. (The “unsafe condition” being that a person following this vehicle could be lead to believe the person driving was braking the entire time.)

To further demonstrate how fine the line is, this is a split decision. (Michigan Court of Appeals decisions are made by three judges—majority rules.) The lead opinion decided the traffic stop was valid, even though the tail lights were operating correctly because the vehicle was in an “unsafe condition.” Another judge concurred (agreed), but disagreed with the lead opinion’s reasoning, stating the tail lights were not operating correctly, and would not agree a dim tail light is an “unsafe condition.” A third judge dissented (disagreed) with both for the simple reason that the conflicting reasoning between the two other judges makes no sense.

Judge One: “Traffic stop not valid under MCL 257.686, but valid under MCL 257.683.”

Judge Two: “Traffic stop valid under MCL 257.686, but not valid under MCL 257.683.

Judge Three: “How can both those statements be true?”

Simply realize this—if a law enforcement officer intends to pull you over, they now have more excuses to do so.