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Curtesy or Dower Defined

Curtesy or Dower Defined

Curtesy and dower are two terms that generally refer to the same thing regarding estate, differencing in the fact that one is for each spouse. Curtesy refers to the interest the husband would receive in case of the wife passing away. Dower refers to the same interest, if the husband passed away. The widow and widower in these cases were awarded at least one third of the other’s estate.


Curtesy and Dower laws were used for a long time, and have dated back thousands of years in ideology. In Europe, they were established into law with some influence from the Church over government, as with many laws at the time. Today, dower and curtesy laws rarely exist, and have been abolished in most states. Currently, 6 states in the United States still have curtesy and dower laws in effect. The abolishment of these laws in other states does not mean that they have completely vanished, they have just been modified to meet with the demands of modern times. Those laws today are more widely used, and are thought to be more accordingly fitting than were those of dower and curtesy.
Elective Share

Elective share is relatively the modernized, up to date version of the preexisting curtesy and dower laws relating to estate. This term refers to an entitlement of inheritance of a surviving spouse over the deceased one, without specifying wife or husband (relating to either or). A surviving spouse may choose whether to take their elective share over the portion that was left in the will, or vice versa, depending on which one is larger. The state regulates the percentage of the estate in relation to the number of people entitled to it, and by the independent financial state of the surviving spouse. In most states, the portion given to the spouse can range between one third to one half of the estate, generally.