Ohio to Abolish Dower Rights
December 7, 2018 |
On November 14, 2018, H.B. 407 was referred to the Ohio Senate Judiciary Committee for consideration. The legislation which generally proposes to abolish dower rights in Ohio was passed by the Ohio House of Representatives in June of this year. If the legislation becomes law, Ohio will join 47 other states that have already abolished dower, with the most recent state being Michigan.
Dower is essentially a spouse’s right to claim a life estate in one third of real estate owned by the other spouse. For example, if your husband owned a home prior to your marriage, upon your marriage you would be entitled to dower rights in his house (even though you are not listed as a legal title owner of the home).
In introducing the legislation to the House Civil Justice Committee, Representatives Dever and Seitz testified as to the background of dower rights in Ohio. They testified that the concept of dower dates back to 1310, as a way to provide for a daughter upon marriage should she become a widow. Currently Ohio is one of only 3 states that recognize dower rights. The other two states are Arkansas and Kentucky.
Proponent testimony is support of the legislation was also offered by Charles Bringham, III with the Ohio Land Title Association. Among other things, Mr. Bringham argued that Ohio law already has surviving spouse election provisions, which in some cases would permit a spouse to inherit the entire probate estate of their deceased spouse. Further, any real estate acquired during a marriage is already classified in Ohio law as a marital asset, and thus subject to division during the divorce proceedings. Mr. Bringham concluded his testimony with the observation that dower confuses homeowners and imposes unnecessary time, cost and expense on real estate professionals.
Michael Sikora and Scott Ziance, with NAIOP, were even more critical of dower in Ohio. They argued that dower puts Ohio at a competitive disadvantage. They explained that many in real estate do not understand the concept of dower, which leads to unnecessary tension in transactions and time and expense to resolve an innocent exclusion of dower interests from property conveyance instruments. Mr. Sikora and Mr. Ziance urged the committee to recognize that dower has long outlived its intended purpose and is no longer necessary in the current real estate and legal system in Ohio.
The proposed legislation has been specifically drafted so that the repeal of dower would not adversely affect a surviving spouse’s dower rights that were obtained prior to the effective date of the act. The Senate Judiciary Committee has not yet scheduled hearings on H.B. 407.