Dowry Death

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Property Rights

A Woman’s Right to Property Dower Rights Wills Estate Administration Landlord and Tenant Relationships Contributor: Joyce Ofsa Excerpt from Women and the Law: A Legal Rights Handbook, Online Edition, © 2007 by the West Virginia Women’s Commission (www.wvdhhr.org/women/) and the Women Lawyers Committee of the West Virginia State Bar (www.wvbar.org/). PLEASE NOTE: This book provides general information about the law and a background about legal matters. It is not intended to be used in lieu of legal advice on any individual problem and is not intended to create lawyer-client advice as to any individual problem. If you have a legal problem, you should contact a lawyer to provide advice on the particular laws that apply to your circumstance

A Woman’s Right to Property

As a West Virginia woman, do I have the right to own property? Yes. In West Virginia, women, whether married or single, have the right to own and to control their separate property. However, your ownership of property and the way you may sell or dispose of your property is often affected by changes in your personal relationships, whether from marriage; divorce; the death of a spouse, child or other relative; or even the birth of a child. After any of these changes have occurred in your life, you should think about how the event may have affected your property rights and what steps, if any, you should take to protect your rights or to otherwise control the disposition of your property.

What are the types of property in which I may have an interest? There are two types of property in which you might have an interest—real property and personal property. Real property is land and, generally, whatever is built on, growing on or attached to the land. For example, your house and yard are real property. Real property is often called real estate. Personal property is everything that is the subject of ownership, other than real property. For example, your furniture, clothing and car are personal property.

What happens to my property when I marry? There are two terms you should be familiar with concerning your property rights when you marry. Your property, whether real or personal, may be considered as either separate property or marital property. Separate property is property (1) that you own at the time of marriage, (2) that you inherit after marriage or (3) that you otherwise acquire after marriage but that remains separately yours. For example, if you own a house titled in your name before

marriage, it is your separate property. If one of your parents dies after you marry and you inherit any of their real or personal property, it is your separate property unless or until you have the real property titled in both your name and your spouse’s name or make a gift of the personal property to your spouse or to the marriage. Marital property is property acquired by either spouse during a marriage, other than his or her separate property. For example, if you and your husband purchase a home during your marriage, it is marital property. If either you or your husband owned a home before your marriage and your earnings have been used to remodel or otherwise make improvements to the real estate since the marriage, then the amount of any increase in the home’s value is considered marital property. The concepts of separate property and marital property are particularly important in divorce proceedings in West Virginia. The law governing these proceedings specifically defines those terms and describes how separate and marital property are to be considered for equitable distribution of property upon divorce. (See the Family Law chapter of this handbook for more information.) Your lawyer will be able to further explain how your property rights are affected if you divorce.

How can I control what will happen to my separate property? You may control what will happen to your separate property after you are married by entering into an antenuptial or...
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