dower and curtesy

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Dower and curtesy are outdated terms that refer to the rights of a spouse to property of the other spouse when they pass. Until recently, the rights differed based on gender. Dower was the rights of the wife when the husband passed, and normally, the wife gained a life-estate to one-third to one-half of the property of the husband. However, curtesy was the rights of the husband when the wife passed, and the husband received a life estate to all the wife’s property only if the couple had a child during the marriage. Today, since discriminating on the basis of sex is illegal in almost all cases, dower and curtesy rights are the same for all genders, but states differ on the share spouses receive of the estate. 

[Last updated in June of 2021 by the Wex Definitions Team