Definition from Nolo’s Plain-English Law Dictionary
A surviving spouse's right to receive a set portion of the deceased spouse's estate -- usually one-third to one-half. Dower (not to be confused with a dowry) refers to the portion to which a surviving wife is entitled, while curtesy refers to what a man may claim. Until recently, these amounts differed in a number of states. However, because discrimination on the basis of sex is now illegal in most cases, most states have abolished dower and curtesy and generally provide the same benefits regardless of sex -- and this amount is often known simply as the statutory share. Under certain circumstances, a living spouse may not be able to sell or convey property that is subject to the other spouses dower and curtesy or statutory share rights.