Take-Away: The Michigan Court of Appeals recently held that a wife’s dower interest (now repealed) only placed a cloud on the title to her husband’s real estate. The absence of the wife’s release of her dower interest in the deed did not void her husband’s deed.

Background: A wife’s dower interest in real estate owned by her husband was abolished in Michigan in April, 2017. The question is what is the import of a wife’s failure to release her dower interests in her husband’s real estate in a deed that was executed prior to dower being legally abolished in 2017.

Estate of Burnett, Michigan Court of Appeals

Facts: Only Greg acquired an interest in real estate back in 2003, when Michigan recognized a wife’s dower rights. At the time Greg acquired the real estate interest he was married to Constance. In 2006 Greg transferred the real estate to himself, Lori, and Matt by a quitclaim deed. Constance did not join in the quitclaim deed. Accordingly, Constance had a dower interest in the transferred real estate. Constance died in 2018. Greg died in 2020.

Dispute: The Personal Representative of Greg’s estate sought to void the 2006 quitclaim deed to Lori and Matt, claiming that the absence of Constance’s release of her dower interest voided the 2006 deed. In contrast, Lori and Matt claimed that Constance’s missing dower release only created a cloud on title to the real estate.

Probate Court: The probate judge voided the 2006 deed. Lori and Matt appealed that decision.

Court of Appeals:  The Court of Appeals reversed. The Court held that Constance’s dower interest in Greg’s real estate only placed a cloud on the title to the real estate and that Constance’s missing release of her dower interest did not act to void the quitclaim deed.

In addition, the Court held that whatever cloud existed by Constance’s failure to release her dower interest in the real estate, that cloud was eliminated in 2017 when Michigan abolished dower. The Court also noted that even if Michigan had not formally abolished dower in 2017, that fact that Constance died before Greg would have operated to remove any cloud on title to the real estate.

The Court also mentioned that the missing dower release by a wife might warrant the buyer of the real estate from consummating the purchase of the real estate, or an abatement of the purchase price equal to the value of the wife’s dower interest in her husband’s real estate.

Conclusion: Sometimes individuals get warranty deeds and quitclaim deeds confused. A quitclaim deed only conveys such interest, if any, that the grantor has in the property that is conveyed. Normally there are no representations or warranties of marketability that are associated with a quitclaim deed.