Effective April 7, 2017 Dower Rights will no longer effect real estate in Michigan.

What is a Dower Right?

Dower rights have historically allowed a widow to use her deceased husband’s real property during her lifetime.  The justification for these dower rights dates back to when a woman was unable to own property.  Essential any man who owns property prior to being married, or purchases property while being married, his wife was automatically entitled to 1/3 ownership.  This transfer only benefited the wife of a transaction.  A husband did not receive any interest in his wife’s property that she owned individually.

Why does it matter?

Many men have taken ownership prior to getting married as “a single man”.  However when going to sell the property they now needed to have their wife sign off on the documents as well.  As of April 7th this will no longer apply.  Married couples can own property individually, and sell it individually as well.

Why the change?

Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions in Obergefell v. Hodges and DeBoer v. Snyder, which held that all states must recognize marriage between same sex couples, the Michigan legislature recognized the need to clarify dower’s role in our present society.  Since dower only applied & benefited a woman married to a man.  The conflicts and inconsistencies for dower rights that were created by the mandated recognition of same sex marriage ultimately motivated the Michigan legislature to pass the package of bills to abolish dower rights.

The newly signed bills, SB 558 and SB 560, abolish a wife’s dower right in both statue and common law, and repeal sections of the Revised Judicature Act that pertain to dower.  The bills also remove the requirement for a divorce judgment or separate maintenance to include a provision in lieu of dower.  Finally, the bills do apply the right of dower to a surviving widow whose husband passed away prior to the effective date of the bills.

Even though Dower is eliminated after April 7th, it is NOT retroactive.  So any property owned, or couples married prior to the April 7th date will still be grandfathered in under the old Dower Rights.