Definition: Heir

The strict legal definition of an heir is a family member who is entitled to inherit a person’s property if the person has died intestate (without a will).1 Under this strict definition, a person’s heirs will consist of one or more family members who survive the person, as designated by the laws of descent and distribution in intestacy.2 Because someone must successfully survive a person to be the person’s heir (deceased family members cannot be heirs), and whether or not someone will survive a person cannot be known until the person dies, a person’s heirs cannot be identified with certainty until the person has died.

Many people use the word “heir” in a less strict sense to mean any person who inherits property from another. While this informal use of the word may be more common, on this website we use “heir” in its more formal sense.

See also beneficiary, devisee, and legatee.