Since 1787, Michigan law has provided that the surviving wife of a deceased husband was given the right to elect a one-third interest in any real property that her husband owned at death. This election applied when a husband died without a will, or died with a will that left the surviving wife less than the value of the elections.
These dower laws were intended to protect wives, who were not permitted to own property, from being disinherited or impoverished.
Although women have long since been able to own real property, the law remained.
As a result, any time a husband transferred or mortgaged an interest in real estate held solely in his name, the wife has also been required to sign to release her dower rights.
It was not until the U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2015, which held that all states must recognize and license same-sex marriages, that the antiquity of the rationale behind this law was finally addressed. Effective April 6, 2017, Michigan has eliminated a wife’s dower rights in property.
Now, any transfer by a husband of real estate in his name alone may be done without the signature of the wife. Similarly, a husband may solely mortgage property that is titled in his name alone, unless both spouses occupy the property as their residence and the mortgage proceeds are used for a purpose other than to purchase the property. Since dower laws never applied to real estate owned solely by a wife, a wife has always been and continues to be able to transfer or mortgage real estate (subject to the above exception) without the signature of a husband.
Upon death, the wife is no longer granted the election to receive an interest in the deceased husband’s property. However, a surviving spouse (husband or wife) continues to have multiple options and benefits from the estate of a deceased spouse in the event of death without a will or disinheritance. These benefits include an exempt property allowance, family allowance, a homestead allowance and, depending on the identity of surviving family members, up to the first $150,000 plus one-half the balance of the estate of a decedent without a will.