A jointure is simply a provision for a wife in the event of her husband's death. This type of binding legal agreement usually involves part of the deceased's estate or a sum of money that will ensure the wife's financial survival should her husband pass away. Typically a jointure should take effect immediately following the husband's death, it must be for the wife's life or determined by her own accord, and it should be made before marriage — or if made after marriage, the wife can void the agreement if she so deems it acceptable upon her husband's death. It should also satisfy the conditions of dower without being apart of it. A jointure often takes effect if there is no dower already in place.
Historically speaking, jointure is a practice that was established in laws during Medieval times and can date back all the way to the Code of Hammurabi in Ancient Babylon. In most cases, a fraction of the husband's property, usually one-third or one-half, was promised to the wife upon marriage to take care of the wife's needs in the event of her husband's death. It was possible, though, for jointure to be established after wedding vows were exchanged. This usually involved the wife or someone on behalf of the wife paying the husband money or property for a jointure on her for life and could be nullified by the wife.
This practice is often related to dower. The term "dower" originated from the German practice of the groom gifting the bride after the consummation of marriage the morning after their wedding night, should the bride survive her husband. A dowry is a gift made by the bride's family to the groom during the engagement to be used by both spouses during the marriage.
In contrast with the dowry, however, the husband was usually unable to utilize the dower during the marriage, and the dower was often overseen by a male relative of the bride until the wife became a widow. At such a time, the widow was able to use or distribute the dower at her own discretion. This policy was used to ensure the financial status of the widow but also to prevent the widow from becoming a burden on her surrounding community.
Provisions for a wife were often given by law in Europe and Eastern culture, but they were also commonly tied to religious practices. For example, jointure is still practiced in the 21st century in the Islamic faith. In the Islamic culture, this practice is known as mahr, and both husband and wife must agree on it. This practice can be nullified by acts of the wife or conditions of the marriage. For instance, if the wife commits adultery or if she requests a divorce, then the jointure can become invalid, and the mahr is returned to the husband by request of a judge.
Jointure exists in Western culture as well. It has been introduced both in Canadian and United States law. In U.S. law, jointure is usually referred to as an elective share, and it allocates a portion of the remaining property from an estate to the surviving spouse if the deceased does not leave behind a will. Some regions also have a clause that permits children of the deceased to claim an elective share.