Ohio still recognizes a statute that protects both husbands and wives regarding an interest in real estate where a spouse does not hold title to the property (only one spouse signed their name on the deed). An example is when Tom and Mary, a married couple, own title to one plot of land. However, Tom owns a beach house on the coast of California. It would not matter if Tom purchased the house before he married Mary, or if he used his own money and purchased the beach house gaining the title of this property in his name alone. Mary was not involved in the process of gaining title, she did not sign the deed, and she did not hold title to the beach house. If Tom decided to covey property to a buyer and sell the beach house, by virtue of marriage, Mary received dower interest in the beach house. This would require Mary to sign and release the property in the closing transaction. If a spouse does not sign a deed and the buyer of the house tries to take ownership of the house, the buyer’s title in the property would be deemed defective because the spouse with his or her name on the deed did not grant complete ownership.

If Tom dies holding sole title to the home that he and Mary lived in, and Mary still did not sign the document, dower rights would protect her. She would have the right to continue living in the home or could benefit financially from the sale of the property. This would apply to Tom’s beach house as well. Dower rights also protect the newly widow. If the deceased spouse had any debts, the property cannot be foreclosed or forced into sale while the widow is alive.

Dower rights can be terminated in three ways. Dower rights are terminated by divorce or dissolution of marriage, by death of the spouse, or by having the other spouse sign a document releasing their dower rights. Ohio holds a statute that bars dower rights if one spouse commits adultery.

Other states that still recognize dower rights are Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri (called “Marital Rights”), New Jersey (only if property was owned by a married person prior to May 28, 1980), and North Carolina.

If you have questions regarding this or real estate in general, please give us a call at (614) 429-1053.

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