Michigan Ends 171-year-old Dower Rights Law
“[A] wife’s dower right is abolished and unenforceable either through statute or at common law.” MCL 558.30
With that simple sentence, Michigan’s 171-year history of providing dower rights to married women has ended, effective April 6, 2017.
In a brief nutshell, dower laws were originally enacted during a time when women were not legally allowed to own land or work outside the home. By providing dower rights to a widow, she was allowed to continue receiving a percentage of the profits earned from her deceased husband’s land.
Fast-forwarding 171 years, Michigan was the only state left that provided dower rights solely to a female wife married to a male husband. This obviously caused legal problems after the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriages.
But on a practical level, dower rights also caused many headaches for real estate practitioners in Michigan. Whenever a married male wanted to sell real estate in Michigan, he had to have his female spouse sign the deed.
In some cases, a title company was unable to issue a title insurance policy because a married male did not have his spouse sign off on a deed transfer decades earlier. And I even had a few cases over the years where the response to my telling a male client that his female spouse still needed to sign off on the sale of commercial real estate was…”Uh, she doesn’t know I own it.”
By no longer needing to inquire about the gender and marital status of Michigan real estate sellers, one of the trickier aspects of selling real property in Michigan has been eliminated.