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A Widow’s Dower Right
The concept of dower dates back to a time when women were not permitted to hold title to property, or rarely did so, leaving them potentially homeless if their husbands predeceased them and left the homestead or other property to someone else. Michigan’s dower law gives a widow the use of one-third of her deceased husband’s lands for as long as she lives. Michigan’s dower law only protects widows; widowers don’t have a corresponding right, called curtesy, to the use of their wives’ property.
A Surviving Spouse’s Other Options
A widow has three options under Michigan law when her spouse dies: she can accept the terms of his will and whatever bequest he left her; she can claim her dower right; or she can claim an elective share of his probate estate -- any property he owns that does not pass directly to a beneficiary, such as life insurance proceeds or joint bank accounts. Claiming an elective share means rejecting the terms of his will and taking an amount provided for by state law instead. Michigan’s elective share is half what she would have received if her spouse had died without a will, or intestate. A widower has only two options under Michigan law: he can accept the terms of his spouse’s will or he can claim an elective share.
Dying Without a Will
If you die without a valid will, the state decides who gets your property in a set order called intestate succession. Under Michigan law, your spouse receives your entire estate if you have no children or grandchildren and your parents aren’t living. If you’re not married at the time of your death, your children inherit everything. If you’re married and have children, your spouse gets the first $150,000 of your estate and half the balance, and your children share the other half -- unless your spouse is not the other parent of at least one of your children. In that case, she receives only $100,000 and half the balance of your estate. If your parents are living but you leave no children, your spouse gets the first $150,000 and three-quarters of your remaining estate with the other quarter going to your parents. Your parents can inherit only if you’re not married and have no children. If you have no living parents, your estate would go to your siblings. But none of these people can inherit from you if they don’t survive you by 120 hours.
A surviving spouse is entitled to a $15,000 homestead allowance from the estate under Michigan law. This is in addition to any bequest, dower right or elective share she might accept. The allowance has top priority -- the executor of the estate must pay it first before any of the decedent’s debts or even his burial expenses. If the decedent has no spouse, the homestead allowance passes to his minor children and any adult children who depended on him for support. Michigan law also allows for a “reasonable” family allowance to the decedent’s immediate family, money intended to provide for them for up to a year while the estate is in probate.
When a person dies, the property she owns must be transferred to others. If she leaves a valid will, the property passes to the persons named as beneficiaries in the will. If she dies without a will -- termed intestate -- her property passes to close family members according to the order set out in a state's intestate statutes. Ohio's inheritance laws are found under Title 21 of the state codes.
Making a Will in Ohio
Under Ohio law, any person who is at least 18 years old can make a will. The person must be "under sound mind or memory," which means that she must be competent mentally.
Some states permit a resident to make any of several types of wills. In Ohio, the only will you can make in standard situations is the formal, written will. It can be handwritten, typed or printed, but must be signed by the person making the will, called the testator, in the presence of two witnesses, also over the age of 18 years old. The witnesses must also sign the will, representing that they saw the testator sign it.
Be sure not to choose persons to witness your will who are also named as beneficiaries under the will. According to the Ohio code, any bequests to the witnesses are voided by the court. This rule requiring disinterested witnesses is because the witnesses may be required to testify to the court about whether you were competent when you signed the will.
The only other type of will you can make in Ohio is an oral will. If you are on your deathbed, you can tell two disinterested witnesses the names of those you want to inherit your property. If those witnesses put the terms of the oral will into writing within 10 days of the date they were spoken, signing under oath that you spoke them and were competent at the time, the oral will may be valid under Ohio law.
Revoking a Will in Ohio
It is easier to revoke a will in Ohio than to make one. No witnesses are required. All you have to do is to tear it up or destroy it intentionally, or have someone else do it in your presence.
You can also revoke a will in Ohio by making another will or attaching an amendment to the will, termed a codicil, that nullifies the terms of the first will. Any bequests made to a spouse in your will are annulled if you later divorce or legally separate from him unless the will is made after the divorce or separation.
Dying Intestate In Ohio
If you die without a will in Ohio, your "next of kin" inherits your property. The Ohio intestate statutes define exactly what next of kin means in this case.
If you don't leave a surviving spouse, your property is given in equal shares to your children. If a child predeceases you, his share is divided among his children. If a predeceased child has no children, his share is divided among his siblings in equal parts.
If you leave a spouse but no children or grandchildren, your spouse inherits the entire estate.
If you leave a surviving spouse and children, all of whom are also children of the surviving spouse, the spouse takes all of the property in your estate. If there is a surviving child who is not the natural or adopted child of the surviving spouse, the estate is divided between the spouse gets the first $20,000, then the remainder of the estate is split between the child and the surviving spouse.
The statutes spell out in detail the rules for inheritance in different possible scenarios, including if you leave several children some of whom are not the children of your surviving spouse, if you have neither surviving spouse nor children. Parents and siblings are essentially next in line in Ohio to inherit if you die intestate.