Definition of Dower

A Dower is a common law that entitled a widow to a portion of her husband's estate in absence of a will. The provision of dower allowed the wife to provide for herself and any children born during the marriage. In most circumstances, the widow was granted up to one-third interest in her husband's assets.

Breaking Down Dower

Dower provided a woman with increased financial security if their husband died without a will, known as intestate. In some states, a woman forfeited her right to dower if she becomes the guilty party in an annulment or divorce, usually caused by adultery. In modern times, inheritance rights applying to men and women are prevalent, making dower laws obsolete.

Dying Without a Will

Under the Uniform Probate Code, which has been adopted in 19 states, if one spouse dies without a will the other spouse inherits the estate. However, each state may have varying laws on rights to an estate, so be sure to check with an attorney or other professional versed in the laws of your state. A change to the 1990 version of the uniform code provides:

"The intestate share of a decedent's surviving spouse is: (1) the entire intestate estate if: (i) no descendant or parent of the decedent survives the decedent; or (ii) all of the decedent's surviving descendants are also descendants of the surviving spouse and there is no other descendant of the surviving spouse who survives the decedent; (2) the first [$200,000], plus three-fourths of any balance of the intestate estate, if no descendant of the decedent survives the decedent, but a parent of the decedent survives the decedent; (3) the first [$150,000], plus one-half of any balance of the intestate estate, if all of the decedent's surviving descendants are also descendants of the surviving spouse and the surviving spouse has one or more surviving descendants who are not descendants of the decedent; (4) the first [$100,000], plus one-half of any balance of the intestate estate, if one or more of the decedent's surviving descendants are not descendants of the surviving spouse." 

Under the code prior to 1990, "the decedent's surviving spouse received the entire intestate estate only if there were neither surviving descendants nor parents. If there were surviving descendants, the descendants took one-half of the balance of the estate in excess of $50,000 (for example, $25,000 in a $100,000 estate). If there were no surviving descendants, but there was a surviving parent or parents, the parent or parents took that one-half of the balance in excess of $50,000."