Widow inheritance, also known as bride inheritance, is a cultural and social practice whereby a widow is required to marry a kinsman of her late husband, often his brother. Examples of widow inheritance can be found in ancient and biblical times in the form of levirate marriage. The practice was meant as a means for the widow to have someone to support her and her children financially, and to keep her late husband's wealth within the family bloodline. At the time it was initiated, women were responsible for the house chores and men were the providers, therefore if the woman lost her husband she would have no one to provide for the remaining family. Because her in-laws would not want someone outside of the family's blood line to inherit her late husband's estate, she was required to marry within the family.
This can have various forms and functions in different cultures, serving in relative proportions as a social protection for, and control over, the widow and her children. She may have the right to require her late husband's extended family to provide her with a new man, or conversely she might have the obligation to accept the man put forward by the family, with no real prospect of turning him down, if her birth family will not accept her back into their home.
The custom is sometimes justified on the basis that it ensures that the wealth does not leave the patrilineal family. It is also sometimes justified as a protection for the widow and her children.
A form of widow inheritance existed in ancient Judaism, where it is known as levirate marriage (see yibbum). It is known in India. It is common in certain African groups, for example the Luo in Kenya and Uganda around Lake Victoria.
- Levirate marriage, the term by which this practice is better known