Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Curtesy Definition:

Widower's right to an interest in his deceased wife's real property.

Related Terms: Dower

Also sometimes spelled courtesy.

Franklin Heard relates this old anonymous legal saying:

"It (curtsey) was called the law of England because it was invented in England on behalf of poor gentlemen who married gentlewomen, and had nothing wherewith to support them,selves after their wives' death."

This is the common law's male equivalent to dower rights.

Common law curtesy rights were not limited to 33.3% of the wife's real property, as for dower, the widow's entitlement was so limited

Common law also required that the widower had fathered children with the deceased.

This common law entitlement has been abolished in most common law Canadian provinces such as the British Columbia Estate Administration Act which provided, at ¶95(2) that:

"Abolition of ... curtesy.... No husband is entitled to an estate by the curtesy in the land of his deceased wife dying intestate."

Similarly, Ontario's Succession Law Reform Act (RSO 1990 c. S26) states: "The common law right of a widower to curtesy is abolished."

And from the "because I can" department comes this little jewel of trust law legalese, for which UNB law professor A. La Forest must wear the full credit:

"If the wife had a life estate and a reversion in fee following a contingent remainder, there was an estate by the curtesy in the reversion if the remainder did not take effect, because the life estate and reversion were united in her, but there was no curtesy in the reversion if the remainder took effect."


  • Heard, Franklin Fiske, Curiosities of the Law Reporters (Boston: W.S. Bartlett, 1871), page 172.

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