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Goodbye, Dower! Hello, Equality!

Recently the Michigan Legislature took a huge step towards furthering the equal treatment of its residents and their real property interests by eliminating an archaic and unnecessary law treating men and women unequally.  On January 5, 2016, Governor Snyder signed a series of bills that eliminated dower rights in Michigan.  Now, I’m sure most of you reading this have two questions:

  1. What is Dower?
  1. How does this affect Michigan residents, including those in the Saginaw, Midland, and Bay county areas, like me?

Fear not readers and allow me to explain why this new law is a win for equal treatment and a step in the right direction for Michigan residents like you.

What is Dower?
Dower is a married woman’s right to a one-third life estate in all of her deceased husband’s real estate.  Under dower, a married man would have to get his wife’s signature in order to transfer property he held solely in his name.  Married men have no similar right to their wives’ real property and a wife can freely transfer real property solely in her name without his consent.

Dower dates to Medieval times where real property, the dominant source of wealth, was passed down to the eldest son or first born child and not the spouse.  Dower provided support for a widow after the husband’s death.  However, today most wealth is not real property assets but personal property, insurance policies and retirement accounts, to which dower does not apply.

How does Dower’s elimination affect Michigan residents?
The new law is scheduled to take effect on April 5, 2017.  As dower rights only applied to real property interests, which today are not the dominant source of wealth, dower provided little protection for a widow.  The only real impact of this law is now neither a married man or married women needs their spouse’s signature to transfer property solely in the man or woman’s name.

Kelli M. King-Penner is an estate planning, real estate, and business attorney in Saginaw, Michigan and a member of the Northeastern Michigan Estate Planning Council.  As always, you can contact Shinners & Cook at 989.799.5000 with any questions regarding your real property or any other legal questions.