Dowry is a woman’s absolute right. If this dowry is deferred, it is considered a debt payable as soon as possible. It has become an accepted custom that the wife forfeits her right to her deferred dowry with either her or her husband’s death, but this is an injustice that may be accepted culturally but in front of Allah the husband is indebted to her. It was reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings upon him) said, “If a man promised a woman a dowry, and Allah knows that this man does not intend to give it to her, then he consummated the marriage, after his death he will meet Allah as a fornicator. If a man borrowed money from his brother and did not settle his debt, he will meet Allah as a thief.”
If the wife dies, her deferred dowry becomes part of her estate that is to be distributed amongst her heirs.
Dr. Husam al-Din Ibn Musa `Afana, professor of Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence at Al-Quds University, Palestine, states: “Dowry is an obligation a husband must honour. Almighty Allah says, “And give unto the women, (whom you marry) free gift of their marriage portions.” (An-Nisa’: 4)
Scholars have agreed that the dowry could be paid in full in advance or deferred or paid in part according to the agreement between the parties in the marriage contract. It is to be noted that whether the dowry is paid in advance or deferred, it is a wife’s immutable right and it is considered a debt to be paid by the husband.
In most countries it has become customary that part of the dowry is deferred automatically and must be paid in one of two cases, divorce or death. If the husband divorces his wife, he is obligated to pay her the deferred dowry, and if he dies, she should be given her dowry before the distribution of the estate.
Likewise, if the wife dies her deferred dowry becomes a part of her estate to be distributed amongst her heirs.”