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In Law, What Is Curtesy?

Many legal doctrines or concepts have been discarded or abolished due to the questionable legality of the law or the development of law now. However, those who practice within the legal field are still knowledgeable of such doctrines or concepts. One such concept provides a husband with life interest in the property of his deceased wife’s estate. This is referred to as curtesy.


In order for tenancy by curtesy to be established, it has to be proven that the husband and deceased wife were legally married. It must also be proven that the wife possessed an estate by means of seisin, wherein the deceased wife took immediate possession of the land as it was fit for her to do so. Lastly, the beneficiaries of the estate, referring to the legal issue of the deceased wife with her husband, must have been alive during the mother’s existence. However, it is not necessary for the issue to be born before or after the seisin, nor live or die.


The legal concept of curtesy was predominant in the Middle Ages in the countries of England, Scotland, Germany, and France. The husband is given access to the estate of his deceased wife, but cannot sell, transfer, or will the property to anyone else since ownership of the property reverts to the beneficiaries of the deceased upon the death of the husband.


Life interest also applies to the wives in terms of the properties of their husbands upon their deaths; however, it is referred to as dower rather than curtesy.

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