MI lawmakers ax 171-year-old widow real estate law

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — An old law in Michigan that slowed down the process for many home buyers will soon be off the books.

In early January, Governor Rick Snyder signed legislation to get rid of Michigan’s dower law.

“We inherited it from England. At it’s basic level it was a way to protect the wife if something should happen to the husband in an agricultural economy,” said Tom Cronkright, the co-founder of Sun Title in Grand Rapids.

The dower law was codified in Michigan 171 years ago and was never taken off the books. The law was put in place because at that time women were not allowed to own property nor could they work, so if their husband died they would have no income. Under dower law, if the husband died the wife would be entitled to one-third of the income made off the property for the rest of her life.

“One of the oldest laws that has sat on the books that we had to interact with on a daily basis when we were transferring property,” Cronkright said.

Cronkright also sat on the legislative subcommittee of the Michigan Land Title Association providing input on getting rid of the dower law.

“What it’s doing to real estate transactions is unnecessarily muddying up a transaction by causing delays,” said Cronkright.

As it was if a deed was being transferred from a seller to a buyer and the property was in the husband’s name, the wife still had to sign off on the sale. However, sometimes when it came time to transfer a property, the title agency would go through the chain of title and find a previous owner’s wife didn’t sign off on the title at the time. That would delay the sale because the title agency would have to track the wife down to have her sign away her dower rights.

“It’s (the repeal) going to make the real estate transfer easier and more predictable because it would come up more frequently than you think,” said Cronkright.

Dower law will be officially off the books by April 7.