Dower Rights Effect on the Transfer of Real Property

If you are married and go to transfer real property or mortgage real property, your spouse will be asked to sign a release of his or her ‘dower rights.’ Dower rights are the interest that a person has in real property owned by his or her spouse.  If one person owns property during a marriage, his or her spouse has a 1/3 life estate interest in that property.   Usually this interest comes up in the context of a will of a deceased party, where the surviving spouse has the right to elect his or her dower interest in lieu of what is provided in the will.  However, the existence of this right also comes into play with certain real estate transactions.

Only a small handful of states, maybe 3-4, still have dower rights codified in their law and Ohio happens to be one of them.  The basic provisions for dower in Ohio are found in Chapter 2103 of the Revised Code. The current statute was passed back in 1953 but has been amended from time to time since. Under Ohio law, unless voluntarily released and subject to a few qualifications for special circumstances, death or divorce are the only two ways to terminate dower rights.

What this means when a married individual wants to transfer real property that he or she owns in his/her own name, a release of dower rights signed by the grantor’s spouse will be included in the deed.

Many mortgage lenders will also want a borrower’s/guarantor’s spouse to release dower rights in connection with the mortgage loan. Some spouses are hesitant to sign a release under the mistaken impression that it somehow obligates them on the mortgage. Merely releasing mortgage rights does not obligate the spouse on the loan. Lenders want to know that if they have to foreclose on the mortgage and take title to the property that they will have clear title to the property.
So the next time you go to transfer real property and you are asked to obtain your spouse’s signature on the deed, you will know why.

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