Michigan Dower rights have been a part of Michigan law for over 170 years. Until very recently, Michigan had been the only state in the country that continued to recognize dower rights of a wife. However, this all changed on January 6, 2017 when Governor Rick Snyder signed into law State Bill 558 and State Bill 560 which effectively put an end to these rights. These Bills both took effect on April 7, 2017.
Deeds here in Michigan were required to state whether a man was married. Prior to change in law, if a married man owned property in his name solely, his wife was required to release her rights by signing off on any sale of the property. This prevented her from being able to later attempt to exercise her dower rights and claim partial interest in the property. If the wife refused or failed to release her dower rights, the title would become clouded. This created problems in that future owners would continue to be in possession of clouded title to the newly owned property until the wife ultimately released her dower rights.
Dower rights have had many issues related to constitutionality as it applied to a wife. Additionally, the exercise of dower rights was relativity rare in most instances. Dower become more complicated with the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges and DeBoer v. Snyder. These rulings essentially held that states must license marriage between same sex couples as well as recognizing a marriage between same sex couples performed in another state. This left major questions related to how dower rights would apply to married women whose spouse is of the same sex here in Michigan. This uncertainty lead to the introduction and implementation of both Bills.
So the obvious question you may be asking is how does the abolition of dower in Michigan affect me going forward?
Generally speaking, the abolishment of dower will have no effect on most Michigan residents. But the change in law will make the transfer to property much simpler and help to avoid clouding of title upon the death of a husband. In most cases, the abolishment of dower rights in Michigan will probably have little to no actual effect on most individuals. The purpose of the law is to help to simplify the transfer of real estate for married men who own real property in their individual names.
As a side note, dower is not completely gone. A wife may still elect to exercise her dower rights if her husband died prior to the new law taking effect on April 7, 2017.
Real questions are present regarding the future effect that the change in law may have on title company procedure. More specifically when real estate is conveyed, especially transfers that are the result of Probate procedures.
If you have questions regarding issues related to dower rights and/or transfer of property here in Michigan, call Hewson & Van Hellemont, PLC, to discuss what options may be available.