Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Widow's Quarantine Definition:

A reprieve given to a widow after the death of her husband giving her 40-day exclusive occupancy of the spousal home, estate notwithstanding.

Related Terms: Dower

A rule set out in the 1215 Magna Carta and followed by the common law to give a widow a chance to go through the grieving process of her deceased husband and to avoid eager descendants of the deceased who want hert out of the home.

The period of quarantine extended to the widow at common law was 40 days which allowed to remain in possession of the family home in which she resided at the time of her husband's death, and also during which time, she was expected to assert her right to dower, if any.

The text of the Magna Carta (see 1215: The Magna Carta for the full text):

"At her husband's death, a widow may have her marriage portion and inheritance at once and without trouble. She shall pay nothing for her dower, marriage portion, or any inheritance that she and her husband held jointly on the day of his death. She may remain in her husbands house for 40 days after his death, and within this period her dower shall be assigned to her."

One American author (Harry Homer) described the widows quarantine in the following words:

"Widow's Quarantine. A widow may remain in the chief house of her husband 40 days after his death, whether her dower is sooner assigned to her or not, without being liable to any rent for the same. And in the meantime she may have her reasonable sustenance out of the estate of her husband.

"It is only the widow of a decedent who leads real estate in which she has a dower interest who is entitled to the (widow's quarantine).

"The right of quarantine does not attach to leasehold property."

Many jurisdictions have strengthened this to even include a life estate to the widow, in situations of intestacy. For example, this statement of law:

"... in an intestacy ... the spousal home devolves to and becomes vested in those persons by law beneficially entitled to it and, subject to the liability of the land comprising the spousal home for foreclosure or the payments of debts, those persons must hold the spousal home in trust for an estate for the life of the surviving spouse, or so long as the surviving spouse wishes to retain the estate for life...."1

In a 1986 decision of the Michigan Court of Appeals in Re Stroh Estate, the Court used these words to descrtibe the then-widow's quarantine statute in Michigan:

"In Michigan, the widow's quarantine statute provides ... when a widow is entitled to dower in the lands of which her husband died seized, she may continue to occupy the same with the children or other heirs of the deceased, or may receive 1/3 part of the rents, issues and profits thereof, so long as the heirs or others interested do not object, without having the dower assigned.

"Under this section, the widow can occupy the homestead of her deceased husband, rent free so long as the heirs or other interested persons do not object, until the dower is assigned or the estate partitioned."


  • Duhaime, Lloyd, The Magna Carta (1215)
  • Homer, Harry, Estates Practice Guide (New York: Baker, Voorhis & Co., 1954), page 708-709
  • NOTE 1: Estate Administration Act, RSBC 1996, c 122, §95. Significantly amended, said amendments in force March 31, 2014.
  • In re Stroh Estate, 392 NW 2d 192 (1986)
  • Vannoy v Green, 173 SE 277


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