Dower: Death of spouse

Q177 :Could you please explain what happens to the dower if it remains unpaid until the husband dies. In my home country, it is customary that the woman declares to the deceased husband at the time when his body is taken for burial that she forgives him and forfeits her dower. If a woman does not make this declaration, relatives and friends remind her to do so. Could you also explain what happens to the dower if the wife dies first, without the dower being paid.

A177 : The dower is an amount of money, which may be in cash or kind or some other benefit, which is payable to the wife by the husband at the time when they are married, i.e. when the marriage contract is made. It may be deferred until a later date or deferred indefinitely, but it remains payable if the wife demands it at any time. When it is paid, it becomes the property of the woman and she has sole discretion on how she wants to spend it. She may save, invest or spend it without interference by her husband, father or indeed anyone else. As you realize she is a complete and independent status which enables her to own and dispense of her possessions at her own discretion. A dower is made obligatory with an express order in the Qur'an. The relevant verse may be translated as follows: "Give to women their marriage portions in the spirit of a gift: but if they, of their own accord, give up to you any portion of that, then enjoy it with pleasure. (4;4)" The phrase, "in the spirit of a gift", is significant, because it means the giving of something willingly, of one's own accord, without expecting a return for it. The amount of the marriage portion or dower, which the bridegroom has to give to the bride has not been prescribed by the law. It depends entirely on the agreement of the two parties, and may consist of anything, even a mere token. The point is that the woman should agree, without being subjected to any pressure, to the amount offered. If the dower is unspecified at the time of contract, it remains payable. Its amount may be agreed upon by the two parties after marriage. If they cannot agree on an amount, the matter may be referred to an Islamic court and the judge will order the husband to pay an amount which is equivalent to the dower received by women in a similar social status. The judge will take into account the dower paid to the woman's sisters, cousins or neighbors who have similar qualities including age, education, maturity and beauty. If the husband refrains from paying it, the judge can order enforcement in the normal method of enforcing any judgment. The full amount of the dower becomes payable in two cases. If the marriage is consummated, or if either husband or wife dies before its consummation. If consummation takes place, and the dower has not been paid, or it has been agreed to defer it, the wife may claim it at any time, and it is payable without delay. As it is mentioned in the Qur'anic verse quoted above, it is possible for a woman to forfeit part or whole of the dower willingly. If she does that out of her own free will and without any pressure by her husband or her parents or by social traditions, then the husband may accept that gift from her and he can enjoy it as something that has been given to him freely. As mentioned earlier, the dower becomes payable when either man or wife dies, even though no consummation of the marriage has taken place. It goes without saying that in the event of the death of either spouse after the consummation of the marriage, it becomes also payable. If the man dies first, then it is treated as a debt which he owes to his wife. It is common knowledge that the first thing to be paid from an estate of a deceased person is his debts. His heirs are not to claim any portion of what he has left behind until his debts are cleared and his will is executed, provided that the will does not exceed one third of his property. Hence, if a man dies with a portion of the dower he had agreed with his wife, still unpaid, that portion is to be treated as a debt. If what he has left behind is not sufficient to pay the dower, then his children and other heirs should jointly settle it. If the woman dies first and her dower is unpaid, in full or in part, then what remains outstanding of it must be paid into her estate straight away. It may well be needed to settle an outstanding debt. If the woman does not owe anybody anything, the outstanding dower is part of the money due to her heirs. Her husband will, needless to say, be among her heirs, but he must first pay the dower into her estate. If he cannot pay, a set off against his share of inheritance from her may be made. To do so, her estate may be calculated including the dower. The portion of her husband is then calculated. As you know, a husband inherits one quarter of his wife's estate if she has any children. If she has no children, then he inherits half of it. When his share is determined, the amount of the dower is taken out of it and the balance is either paid into the estate or paid to the husband, as the case may be. The questioner raises the point of a woman forfeiting her right to her dower at the time when her husband is about to be buried. He further says that this is customary in his part of the world. Well, the Qur'anic verse quoted above says that if they, meaning your wives, "Of their own accord, give up to you any part thereof, then enjoy it with pleasure." The operative phrase here is 'of their own accord'. Any forfeiting of any part of the dower, whether in lifetime or after his death, must be done willingly by the woman. When it is traditional for a woman to do so, when her husband dies, then a woman may think it is unbecoming of her not to forfeit her dower. What is important here is that a widow should be properly informed before she makes her decision. She should be told that by doing so, she is actually making a gift of her dower to the other heirs. Her deceased husband does not benefit by it. It is certainly open to her to forfeit it, in the same way as anyone to whom the deceased owes some money may forfeit his debt. If a woman thinks that she has enough to live on, and she wants to increase the shares of her children in the inheritance of their father, then she does well to forfeit the outstanding dower. But she must be made aware that she is under no obligation to do so. If she does not have enough to live on, she must be further told that she may be doing herself an injury by forfeiting her dower. To my mind, a woman need not forfeit her dower unless she wants to help her children and she is well-to-do, or if she knows that there is not enough in her deceased husband's estate to pay her dower.

Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )