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What Are Dower Rights?

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The idea of dower has been disregarded by most states as an antiquated concept. However, dower rights are laws related to real property, they are still recognized real estate laws in Ohio by statute and protect both husbands and wives.

For example; Joseph and Jane were married for many years.  They owned their residence together here in the State of Ohio and most other assets jointly.  However, Jane owned a separate house that she used as a rental property.  She purchased the property during the marriage with her separate funds.  The title for this property in Ohio was in her name alone!

After several years as a landlord, Jane decided to get out of the rental business.  She listed the rental property for sale and quickly found a buyer. Since Joseph was not a title owner of the property, he was not involved in the listing process. Likewise, he did not sign the purchase agreement as a seller.  However, at the closing of the transaction, the title company required Joseph to sign the deed along with Jane to transfer the property.  Joseph did not understand why he would have to sign anything since he was not an owner of the property.  The reason: Joseph had a dower interest in the property by virtue of marriage to Jane and he was required to release it. 

A dower right refers to an interest in real estate that is intended to protect a spouse who does not hold title

"Dower dates back to the middle ages and was intended to protect widows who survive their husbands.
Simply, it prevented husbands from transferring their real property without the spouse’s permission."

The idea of dower has been disregarded by most states as an antiquated concept.  However, dower rights are still recognized in Ohio by statute and protect both husbands and wives.  The Ohio Revised Code provides that a spouse has a life estate interest in one third of the real property owned by a spouse any time during the marriage.   

Any document that intends to convey property will not terminate the dower interest unless that spouse has also signed the document.  If the spouse fails to sign a deed, the buyer takes ownership of the property subject to the dower interest of the spouse.  The buyer’s title in the property is technically defective as the seller did not grant complete ownership.  This may cause significant title issues later on when the buyer tries to sell the property.  Title companies search the deed records to make sure that all interest have been released before issuing title insurance.

Dower issues also arise when a married person mortgages property. Banks require a spouse to sign a mortgage deed so that the bank’s interest in the property is superior to the spouse’s dower rights.  If the spouse does not sign the mortgage, then she may receive funds before the bank in a foreclosure sale.  It is important to note, however, that the spouse will not be liable for payment of the mortgage unless she also signs the promissory note.  Further, signing the mortgage does not eliminate the dower interest, it merely recognizes the mortgage lender's interest is superior.

Traditionally, dower is terminated in one of three ways:

1. By signing a deed releasing dower;

2. By divorce or dissolution of marriage; or

3. By death of a spouse.

There is a curious statute in Ohio that states dower interest can be barred if the husband or wife “leaves the other and dwells in adultery” unless the arrangement is condoned by the other spouse.   This statute remains on the books despite some action to repeal it in 1976.  It serves as an interesting wrinkle in a very old concept that Ohio has yet to give up.  

Have Legal Questions About Dower Rights?

Before relinquishing any rights in property, it is important to review all of the facts and circumstances with a trusted real property attorney. Laribee & Hertrick, LLP stands ready to assist you. 

Contact an Attorney in Medina, OhioMichael Laribee is a partner in the Medina law firm Laribee & Hertrick, LLP.  This article is intended to provide general information about the law. It is not intended to give legal advice.  Readers are urged to seek advice from an attorney regarding their specific issues and rights.
Need a lawyer or have legal questions? Contact Attorneys in Medina from Laribee & Hertrick, LLP.

The following attorneys specialize in real estate law in our firm in Medina, Ohio:

 
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