Dower Rights for Surviving Spouses: Does Your State Still Have This Old English Relic?

If you live in Michigan, your state ended its dower rights in 2017. But if you live in Arkansas, Kentucky, or Ohio, dower is still on the books in your state. This musty old legal provision gives spouses a peculiar set of real estate protections. Kansas, too, has a “dower-like” provision in its KSA 59-505.

If you or your loved ones live in a dower rights state, what’s different about your home’s title?

Let’s take a look.

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Issue Spotting: Buying a Home With an Unmarried Partner

Thinking of buying a house with your partner? Many unmarried couples decide to live together, often co-owning their homes. Here are some questions to consider if you’re thinking of making a similar commitment.

Will One Partner Take Out the Mortgage? Or Will You Be Co-Borrowers?

Two people sitting in a house with moving boxes behind them,

When unmarried couples apply for a mortgage, the partner with stronger credit may opt to be the sole buyer. This can lead to the best possible loan terms and rates.

Alternatively, the couple can apply for a mortgage in both names and pay it off from a joint bank account. Buying a home together, as co-borrowers, may seem to strengthen the couple’s borrowing power. Yet it can do the opposite. A lender will look at the lower of the two credit scores to make approval decisions.

Moreover, co-borrowers need to refinance the loan if they later stop co-owning and put the title into only one of their names. Handling a home loan jointly can complicate the couple’s future if the relationship changes.

Before applying for your mortgage, get the facts on credit scores — and how to boost yours.

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What Happens When Wills and Deeds Conflict?

Image of paper legal documents for the last will and testament. Captioned: What Happens When Wills and Deeds Conflict?

When a person passes away, the death certificate and last will are submitted to the county probate court. A person representative begins the process of passing assets along as the will directs — except when other valid legal instruments have priority. One of those instruments is the all-important real estate deed.

Houses can be left to their owners’ chosen beneficiaries through wills. But when someone who co-owns a house passes away, questions may arise as to what the last will says versus what the deed says. In case of a conflict, does the last will get the last word? Short answer: probably not. The long answer starts with the way the title is vested.

Survivorship Rights Vs. Tenancies in Common

When an owner dies, a properly signed and recorded deed directs and channels the person’s property interest to its next owner, typically according to the following rules.

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Owning Property in Unequal Shares, as Tenants in Common

Image of two people sitting at a table outside discussing being tenants in common owners of real estate.

A tenancy in common is a popular way for co-owners to take title to a home. This way of vesting offers an alternative to joint tenancy, in which a home is co-owned, but the owners split their interest evenly. Here, we talk about what a tenancy in common is, and why its allowance for co-owning in unequal shares can be a benefit.

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How’s Your Property Vested? It Matters as Much as Your Will or Trust

Image of an ink pen on a legal document. Captioned: How's Your Property Vested? It Matters as Much as Your Will or Trust.

In estate planning, wills and trusts aren’t everything.

Homeowners who want to be sure the home passes to the desired beneficiary must be sure the property is correctly vested.

Consider a common example. If you co-own property with a right of survivorship, your interest cannot be willed to any other party. The person who survives automatically acquires rights in your interest.

Here, we review this and other consequences of the vesting of real estate.   

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Types of Vesting Related to Real Estate Ownership

Title vesting is the way an owner (or owners) of property takes title to their real estate. The way that title is held will affect what the owner (or owners) can do with the property during his or her lifetime, and will also determine whether or not the property has to go through probate proceedings upon the owner’s death.

When a deed is written for real property, the ownership is described using the owner’s name and a descriptive phrase for the legal relationship between multiple owners or married people. Vesting decisions will vary from state to state.

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