Dower Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Dower, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Dower?

n. The widow’s common law right to one-third of her late husband’s estate. This old English common law is still law in a few states. A widow’s election enables her to choose whether to accept the dower rights or the terms of her husband’s will. A husband’s corresponding right is to the wife’s entire estate and if children are living, then to the life estate in everything.

History and Meaning of Dower

Dower is an old English common law concept that has a long history in legal practice in some states. Originally, dower referred to a widow's right to a share, typically one-third, of her late husband's real property, which was intended to provide for her support after his death. Over time, the term evolved to include the widow's right to claim a share of her husband's tangible personal property as well. The dower right was designed to protect widows from being left behind with no means of support after their husband's death.

Today, in some states, dower rights are still recognized as a legal right for widows. However, the nature and extent of the dower right varies from state to state depending on the state's law. In many cases, a widow may have the option to choose between taking the dower right or the terms of the husband's will.

Examples of Dower

  1. After her husband passed away, Mary claimed her dower right to a one-third share in his estate, which included his home and all other real property.

  2. The will left by the deceased named his nephew as the sole beneficiary, but his widow Sarah had the right to claim her dower share of the estate.

  3. Even though dower rights are recognized in some states, they can be waived in a prenuptial agreement.

Legal Terms Similar to Dower

  1. Curtesy: A husband's right to a life estate in the wife's property after her death.
  2. Elective share: A statutory allowance granted to a surviving spouse that allows them to claim a specified portion of their deceased spouse's estate in lieu of what was left to them in the will.
  3. Widow's quarantine: A period of time during which a widow is entitled to remain in the marital home after her husband's death, during which she can determine whether she will elect dower rights or accept the provisions of the will.