On December 27, 2016, Governor Snyder signed into law a package of bills that will eliminate statutory and common law dower rights which will take effect on April 7, 2017. Michigan’s dower law was created in 1846 and entitled a widow to a one-third life estate in all of the real estate owned by her deceased husband during the marriage.
Michigan was the only state to provide dower rights to wives without providing any corresponding rights to husbands, making it constitutionally questionable. Also, the wording of Michigan’s dower statue and case law made clear that it did not apple to same-sex couples, creating an additional constitutional issue in light of the recent US Supreme Court decisions legalizing same-sex marriage. In practice, dower rights are very seldom exercised because wives generally receive more favorable treatment under Michigan laws relating to intestacy (i.e. decedents who die without a will) or the spouse’s elective share (i.e the minimum amount to which a surviving spouse is entitled if the deceased spouse does leave a will).
Beginning April 7, 2017, spouses that hold property in their name alone will be free to transfer and mortgage the property without the signature of the other spouse. The only remaining exception is the Michigan homestead law that requires the signatures of both spouses on a non-purchase money mortgage that will cover their homestead (principal residence).
Dower will still apply if a spouse died before April 7, 2017.