By: Lance T. Denha, Esq.
On December 28, 2016, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed into law Public Act 378 of 2016 (the “Act”), which abolishes all statutory or common law rights of dower in Michigan; that is, a wife’s interest in the real property of her deceased husband. The Act indicates that the new law takes effect on April 6, 2017, and suggests that the Act completely eliminates the concept of dower from Michigan law.
The concept of a dower interest in real property dates back centuries and generally provided a surviving widow with an election to retain one-third of her husband’s real estate during her lifetime. A dower interest was considered “inchoate” in that it arises in a married woman while her husband is alive but doesn’t vest until he dies. Therefore, dower rights certainly complicated or impeded on certain real estate transactions.
For example, when a married man sought to transfer interest he owned in property via a deed that his wife did not sign, he was unable to do so without her signature. In fact, the wife’s name did not have to appear on the deed for her dower interest to cloud and affect title to the real estate transaction. As a result of such dower rights, a wife has been required to sign any deed, mortgage or other document or other document to transfer an interest in her husband’s property to another, which would release her dower rights and give the transferee good and marketable title to the property.
As previously mentioned, effective April 6, 2017, a wife will no longer be required to sign any deed, mortgage, grant of easement or other documentation to satisfy the release of her dower rights. Michigan law will still require both a wife’s and husbands signature on any mortgage of residential property that both occupy as their homestead, if the mortgage is granted to secure debt which was not incurred to purchase the homestead, even though the homestead is titled solely in the name of the husband and wife.
Bills to abolish dower had been presented to the Michigan Legislature almost routinely for many years. Prior to the Act, Michigan was one of the few (and perhaps the last hold-out) states to continue to recognize dower. Regardless, this ancient doctrine has finally been repealed, and will soon be of interest only to legal historians and law school professors.