Attention Married Women: Your Property Rights Are Changing.

Michigan is abolishing dower rights for married women. Dower rights provided a safety net. Married women, and their husbands, may now need to take action.

With dower, if a husband died owning real property titled in just his name, his widow got the right to income from that property for the balance of her life. An important consequence was that a husband could not “alienate” (sell, transfer or mortgage) real property without his wife’s agreement. Now, if title is held just by the husband, he can do as he wishes with the real property, leaving his wife with no say in the matter. This is the position husbands have been in all along. This change also makes it easier for a creditor of the husband to go after real property held just in his name.

This change does not affect couples holding title together as husband and wife. Then both need to sign for any sale or mortgage. But if title is held just in the name of the husband, without this safety net they should take action to restore protections for the wife. The easiest way to do that would be for the husband to sign a deed transferring title to both him and his wife but there are lots of ways to hold title to real property and another approach may make more sense in any given situation, especially for investment property. To know what makes the most sense, the couple should consult a real estate or estate planning attorney. If the husband won’t take action to protect his wife, she may want to consult a divorce attorney. Just sayin’.

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