What Is an Heir?

Anbarasan Appavu

An heir is a person who is legally entitled to inherit all or a portion of the estate of a deceased person who died intestate, which means they did not create a valid last will and testament during their lifetime. In such a case, the heir receives property in accordance with the laws of the state where the estate is probated.

Typically, heirs who inherit property are the decedent's children, descendants, or other close relatives. Generally speaking, spouses are not considered heirs under the law, as they are entitled to properties under marital or community property laws.

• An heir is a person who has the legal right to collect an inheritance in the absence of a valid last will and testament.

• In general, heirs who inherit the property are the decedent's children, descendants, or other close relatives.

• Legally speaking, heirs are distinct from beneficiaries, who are named in a will or other written documents as the intended recipient of a deceased individual's assets.

• An inheritance is the portion of a deceased person's estate that is bequeathed to an heir.

•A person's death without a will is known as intestate, and a probate court determines the distribution of their assets.

What Is an Heir?


Understanding About Heir

When there are multiple heirs with the same relationship to the deceased, such as when there are two siblings, the estate is typically divided equally among them. An inheritance is the portion of a deceased person's estate that is bequeathed to an heir. This may include cash, stocks, bonds, real estate, as well as automobiles, furniture, antiques, works of art, and jewelry.

There are many distinct types of heirs, including the ones listed below:

Heir apparent: This term refers to a person who is widely believed to inherit the estate.

A “presumptive heir” is a person who, under current conditions, would be considered an heir, but whose right to inherit may be defeated by a more recently-born person.

• “Adoptive heir” refers to a legally adopted child with the same rights as the parents' biological children.

• A “collateral heir” is a relative who is not a direct descendant but is still a member of the family.


When a person dies without a will, they pass away intestate. It can also refer to circumstances in which the will is deemed invalid. A probate court will decide how the deceased's assets will be distributed in the absence of a will.

When a person dies without a will, the deceased's estate is administered by a court administrator. They will collect all assets, pay off any debts, and then distribute the remaining assets to the individuals deemed to be the deceased's beneficiaries; the heirs-at-law. The process of probate is governed by state law.

The remaining assets are distributed to the beneficiaries via intestate succession, which determines the distribution order. The intestate succession begins with the spouse of the deceased, followed by the children, and finally the grandchildren. If no living relatives or legal heirs can be located, the state will inherit the estate.

Heir versus Beneficiary

In common parlance, the word "heir" is often used to describe those inheriting property as designated by a will; however, this usage is factually incorrect, as the correct term for such an individual is "beneficiary," which legally refers to an individual who is entitled to collect the property, as specified by a will, trust, insurance policy or intestacy.

In terms of inheritance customs, Jewish, Christian, and Islamic law each have their own distinct practices.

Not all heirs are beneficiaries, such as an estranged adult child who is purposefully excluded from a will. Similarly, not every beneficiary is an heir. A person can, for example, designate a friend or companion to receive property.

In this instance, the friend is not an heir, as he would not inherit the property if it were left intestate, as he is neither a child nor a direct relative of the deceased; however, he is a beneficiary, as designated by the deceased person's will or other arrangement. Oftentimes, a female heir is referred to as an heiress, especially when the inheritance involves significant wealth.

Rockefeller Family – A Real-world Example

The Rockefeller family is one of the world's most renowned families. John D. Rockefeller amassed his fortune through his involvement in the oil industry. Alta Rockefeller and John D. Rockefeller Jr., his two surviving children at the time of his death, were his heirs despite the fact that he had donated a significant portion of his fortune to charity.

Both children born during and after Rockefeller's lifetime received a substantial portion of his wealth as heirs; this wealth has since been passed down to additional family members. Despite being technically a beneficiary, as the only son of Rockefeller, Jr. assumed to control of the family office as well as joined their family businesses, becoming Rockefeller's "heir."

Heir to the throne of Britain

The British line of succession is inherited and is transmitted through the monarch's eldest living child, whether male or female.

The current monarch is Prince Charles III, who assumed the position following the death of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II. The heir to the throne is Prince William, the eldest child of King Charles. After Prince William, his eldest son, Prince George, is the heir to the throne.

How does one become an heir?

In the absence of a will, an heir is the person legally entitled to inherit the deceased's assets. Typically, heirs are children or other living relatives. There are laws governing inheritance and who qualifies as an heir in nations and states.

How Does an Heir Differ from a Beneficiary?

An heir is a person who will inherit the deceased's property in the absence of a will or testament. A beneficiary is a person designated by the deceased to inherit their property in accordance with their will or testament. Typically, an heir is a close living relative, while a beneficiary can be anyone.

Who is regarded as an Heir?

The most common example of inheritors are children. If a person has no living children, their grandchildren are considered heirs. If a person does not have any children or grandchildren, the next closest living relative would be considered an heir.

The Bottom Line

An heir is a person who is entitled to inherit the estate of a recently deceased person, typically in the absence of a will naming a beneficiary. Typically, a person's offspring is their heir. The term "heir" is commonly associated with lines of succession, particularly in royal families; however, it can also refer to any person who will inherit the estate of another. This can be a sibling, child, grandchild, nephew, or niece.


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