What is 'Curtesy'

Curtesy is a common law right of a husband to the estate and property of his deceased wife. Also known as statutory share, the rights apply to the man if a child was born during the lifetime of the marriage.

BREAKING DOWN 'Curtesy'

When a man's spouse dies, he becomes the beneficiary of her assets. For the right of curtesy to be established, the couple must have born a child during the time of their marriage. The child must be eligible to inherit his mother's estate upon his or her maturity. The husband who inherits the estate may use it until his death, however, he may not sell or transfer its ownership to any person other than this child.

Common Law

Many states still have laws on the books that define dower and curtesy rights. Dower is a common law that entitles a widow to a portion of her husband's estate in the absence of a will. The provision of dower allows the wife to provide for herself and any children born during the marriage. In most circumstances, the widow is granted up to one-third interest in her husband's assets.

Kentucky's statute, for example, on curtesy and dower states: "After the death of the husband or wife intestate, the survivor shall have an estate in fee of one-half (1/2) of the surplus real estate of which the other spouse or anyone for the use of the other spouse, was seized of an estate in fee simple at the time of death, and shall have an estate for his or her life in one-third (1/3) of any real estate of which the other spouse or anyone for the use of the other spouse, was seized of an estate in fee simple during the coverture but not at the time of death, unless the survivor's right to such interest has been barred, forfeited or relinquished. The survivor shall also have an absolute estate in one-half (1/2) of the surplus personalty left by the decedent. Unless the context otherwise requires, any reference in the statutes of this state to 'dower' or 'curtesy' shall be deemed to refer to the surviving spouse's interest created by this section."

Common law is a body of unwritten laws based on precedents established by the courts. Common law influences the decision-making process in novel cases where the outcome cannot be determined based on existing statutes. The U.S. common law system evolved from a pre-colonial tradition in England, which spread to North America and other continents during the colonial period. Civil law is a comprehensive, codified set of legal statutes created by legislators; some of these laws are based on common law. Judges may use common law in deciding cases where there is no applicable civil law. 

RELATED TERMS
  1. Dower

    A dower was a common law that entitled a widow to a portion of ...
  2. Death Taxes

    Death taxes are taxes imposed by the federal and/or state government ...
  3. Adjusted Gross Estate

    Adjusted gross estate is the net worth of a deceased person’s ...
  4. Estate Planning

    Estate planning is the preparation of tasks that serve to manage ...
  5. Taxable Estate

    Taxable estate is the portion of a deceased person's net assets ...
  6. Estate

    An estate is the collective sum of an individual's net worth, ...
Related Articles
  1. Retirement

    Estate Planning for Beginners, Part Two

    If you die without a will, what happens to your assets? Here's how the state you live in can determine who will inherit your money and belongings.
  2. Financial Advisor

    How Estate Taxes Work, A Real Life Example

    The estate tax is frequently misunderstood. Learn more details about exactly how estate, or inheritance, taxes work in the United States.
  3. Personal Finance

    State Laws Dictate Division Of Joint Property

    In breakup, divorce or death, community or common law will determine how property is divided.
  4. Taxes

    Estate Taxes: Who's on the Hook?

    Inheritance taxes can be tricky. Most people have to deal with them at a very inconvenient time. It's better to learn the laws now so you're ready later.
  5. Retirement

    Top 7 Estate Planning Mistakes

    Many people try to avoid this process altogether, making things difficult for heirs.
  6. Retirement

    Estate Planning for Beginners, Part Six

    Credit shelter trusts can be an income tax planning tool for the survivors named as beneficiaries.
  7. Taxes

    Get Ready For The Estate Tax Phase-Out

    Changes to federal legislation will affect how your assets are treated once you're gone - be prepared.
  8. Financial Advisor

    Estate Planning Tips for Financial Advisors

    Estate planning is not a set-it-and-forget-it proposition. Here are some tips for you and your clients.
  9. Retirement

    Avoid These 4 Common Causes of Family Estate Fights

    Sibling battles over their parents' belongings are quite common. But open family discussions before the parent dies can often prevent them.
Trading Center