Is a Deed Treated Differently in a Dower Rights State vs. a Community Property State?

Dower Right states and Community Property states do indeed treat Deeds differently. Let’s examine how.

Note that the legal concepts behind these rights as related to Deeds can be complex and challenging, and this article is not intended to be a comprehensive discussion about dower and community property.

An Overview of Dower Rights

Dower rights are a right held by spouses as relating to real property. This dower right is intended to protect a spouse that is not named in the deed to the property. In its most basic terms, in a dower state, one spouse cannot sell or transfer all of his or her rights in property that he or she owns without the other spouse signing the Deed transferring that property.

Most states have abolished dower rights, and less than a handful still utilize this concept (notably Ohio, Georgia and Kentucky).

Dower rights may best be described through an example: Harry and Wilma are married and own a home together. They are listed as joint owners in the deed. In addition to their home, Wilma owns a separate house that is used as a rental property; Wilma purchased this rental unit while married to Harry, but used her own money for the purchase price. Wilma’s name alone is on the deed to this rental property.

When Wilma decides to sell the rental property, she alone will sign the real estate purchase agreement with her buyer, setting the sales price and terms. But when the sale is “closed”, both Wilma and Harry will be required to sign the deed transferring title to the buyer. Wilma will sign the deed because she is the owner of the property and Harry will be required to sign in order to release his dower rights in Wilma’s property.

If Harry does not sign the deed, the buyer will take ownership of the rental property subject to Harry’s dower right (and depending on the state, Harry may have continued to hold, own or occupy all or some portion of the property after Wilma’s death, for so long as Harry lives).

In dower right states, it is important for the buyer to ensure that both spouses execute the deed transferring the property, so as to assure that dower is released. (Note, too, that a spouse may be required to sign a mortgage that encumbers a property owned by the other spouse, so that the mortgagee’s interest in the property has priority over the spouse’s dower rights.)

In addition to signing the deed or other document creating an interest in the property, dower is ended or terminated upon the divorce or dissolution of marriage of the spouses or upon the death of a spouse.

An Overview of Community Property Rights

Community Property (sometimes referred to as marital property) is a different concept. It is utilized as a term of ownership and of division. In states that recognize this concept, property that is acquired by either spouse during a marriage is considered community property, belonging to both spouses of the marriage. When the spouses divorce, community property is divided between the spouses. Upon the death of a spouse, the property is owned by the surviving spouse.

In many community property states, real property that is acquired by one spouse prior to the marriage, or obtained by a gift from a third party, through a Will or a by way of inheritance, is usually considered the sole and separate property of the spouse that receives the property. The one spouse can continue to hold the property as his or her own separate property or that spouse can, if he or she wishes, convert the property to community property by executing a deed transferring it to both himself/herself and his or her spouse, as community property.

The laws of each community property state should be examined prior to making such transfer, to ensure that all of the transfer requirements are met.

Know the Laws of Your State Before Creating a Deed

It is critical that every married couple fully understand the laws of their specific state before executing a Quitclaim Deed, Warranty Deed or Survivorship Deed — buying or selling!