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

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