The End of Dower in Michigan

Michigan recently abolished dower by statutory enactment. Dower in the common law provided that a widow was entitled to a dower interest in all of the real property owned by her husband during the period of their marriage. This common law interest was codified into Michigan law in Chapter 588 of the compiled laws and has been a feature of Michigan law since 1787.

Pursuant to the Dower statutes widows had a one third interest in any real property owned by their husbands during their marriage; this allowed a deceased husband the ability to provide for his widowed wife. The earlier forms of Dower were created to provide. Source of income to widows who would otherwise be unable to own property. Women were not allowed to own property in Michigan until the mid-1800s. Even after women were allowed to own property Dower persisted because the legislature felt that women were not on equal economic footing with men and as such needed additional protections. Dower was debated during the 1961 Michigan Constitutional Convention but it was retained to ensure a husband could no disinherit his wife without her consent.

Michigan was one of the states that crafted its Dower law solely to protect wives and not “spouses.” This legislative decision to only protect wives threw Michigan’s Dower law into disarray after the U.S. Supreme Court Ruling in Oberfell. The Oberfell decision required all states to recognize same sex marriages. Therefore, effective April 6, 2017, Michigan eliminated Dower pursuant to 2016 P.A. 378; 2016 P.A. 490; and 2016 P.A. 490.

Simply put, this elimination should have little impact on the day to day lives of real property lawyers, professionals, and the citizens of the state of Michigan. If a married couple owns property jointly it is almost always owned as a joint tenancy with rights of survivorship, providing far greater protections for the spouse than the previous Dower laws. The extinguishment of Michigan’s Dower laws is more of a symbolic gesture by the legislature to remove laws set in the 1700s than to actually change the manner in which real property is transferred in this state.

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