dower, that portion of a deceased husband's real property that a widow is legally entitled to use during her lifetime to support herself and their children. A wife may claim the dower if her husband dies without a will or if she dissents from the will. At common law, dower consists of a one-third interest in all the land that the husband owned during the marriage. In many states of the United States dower rights have been abolished and other provisions, especially rights of inheritance, have been made for the widow. Where it still exists, the dower right attaches to the land as soon as it comes into the husband's possession; for that reason it cannot be defeated by a conveyance of the land by the husband in his lifetime unless his wife joins in the deed. If the wife is the guilty party in a divorce or the marriage is annulled, the right of the wife to dower is ended. The husband's lifetime use of his deceased wife's property, a right that is contingent on the birth of lawful issue, is known as curtesy.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.