Michigan Abolishes Dower Interests in Real Estate
For years Michigan has been one of the only States to recognize the common-law interest known as dower. Dower rights had come to be no more than a pitfall for unwary lawyers and laypeople. Dower gave married women only, a 1/3 life estate interest in all lands owned by their husband, but only enforceable after the husband’s death. Dower was almost never used in modern times, as who really wants a 1/3 life interest in a house or condo? The widow couldn’t really use this right and it had very little, if any value. However, because a wife had an interest in her husband’s land, even though it was never really used, a married woman was required to agree and approve all of her husband’s transfers of land ownership. This did not go both ways, i.e. a married woman could sell land without her husband’s signature, but a husband could not do the same thing. This led to the requirement that all deeds recite the marital status of men. In December 2016, the Michigan Legislature and Governor repealed Michigan’s dower law, effective at the end of March 2017. Public Act 489 of 2016 amended MCL 558.1 to 558.29 and simply states “a wife’s dower right is abolished and unenforceable either through statute or at common law.” The practical effect of this repeal will be the elimination of the requirement that husbands obtain their wives’ signature and approval to transfers of their land.