Dower rights, an integral part of Alberta law for many years, serve as a crucial safeguard for spouses who are not listed on the title to their property. The lack of awareness about these rights can lead to costly complications and challenges. In this blog, we will delve into the history, purpose, and requirements of Dower rights in Alberta to help you better understand this essential legal protection.

History of Dower Rights

Dower rights in Alberta have a rich history, with roots tracing back to the Dower Act passed in 1917. This landmark legislation was championed by Emily Murphy, one of Alberta’s Famous Five, who worked tirelessly to establish this legal protection. Before the Dower Act, common law provided some protection for spouses, with “Dower” for wives and “curtsy” for husbands. While the Act has undergone several changes, its core principles remain relevant and applicable to this day.

Dower Rights in Other Jurisdictions

Today, Dower rights are designed to safeguard the spouse of a registered owner of real property, typically a house on land. The Dower Act necessitates the consent of the spouse not listed on the property’s title for any land disposition, such as a property sale or mortgage. It’s important to note that other scenarios may also trigger these rights, and you can always seek more information by reaching out to us for clarification.

Other provinces and states have similar laws to Alberta’s Dower rights. These laws often revolve around homestead rights, offering comparable protection to spouses in various jurisdictions.

Defining Disposition Under the Dower Act

According to the Dower Act, a disposition refers to an action that must be executed by the property owner, including:

  • Transfers
  • Agreements for sale
  • Leases exceeding three years
  • Mortgages or encumbrances for monetary transactions
  • Wills or other testamentary dispositions
  • Certain types of mortgages, including those involving certificate of title deposits

Requirements to Trigger Dower Rights in Alberta

Determining whether Dower rights apply is relatively straightforward, but common misunderstandings persist. Key considerations include:

  1. Title is in one person’s name: If a property is co-owned, Dower rights do not apply, even if the married individual’s share is in question.
  2. The person on title is married: Dower rights only apply when the person listed on the title is legally married, not in common-law relationships.
  3. Residency since marriage: Dower rights are activated when either spouse has lived in the property since their marriage. This residency requirement can be met if either spouse has spent a night in the property. For further clarification, feel free to contact us.

Navigating Dower Issues

There are ways to circumvent Dower rights, with the easiest being to obtain Dower consent for a specific transaction. Additionally, a Dower release can be acquired, releasing the rights pertaining to a specific property, though this release can be revoked if desired. Remember, Dower rights do not apply when neither spouse has lived in the property.

Consequences of Ignoring Dower Rights:

Attempting to bypass a spouse’s Dower rights can have severe penalties, equal to half the property’s total value, not just half of the equity. If you’re contemplating such an action, it’s essential to consult with one of our lawyers for guidance and to avoid costly mistakes.

The Future of the Dower Act

The Alberta Law Reform Institute (ALRI) has published its recommendations regarding the Dower Act. ALRI suggests replacing the Act with new legislation that extends similar rights to both spouses and adult interdependent partners. The proposed changes include time limits to prevent indefinite protection of a former home, coverage for mobile homes, and improvements in administrative efficiency.

Dower rights in Alberta serve as a vital legal protection mechanism for spouses not listed on property titles. Understanding the history, requirements, and potential changes to this law is essential to ensure you are aware of your rights and responsibilities. If you have any questions or need further assistance regarding Dower rights, don’t hesitate to contact us for guidance.