DEFINITION of 'Heir'

HeirA person who inherits some or all of the estate of another person who has died. An heir receives property according to the laws of the state in which the property is probated when a person dies intestate (without a valid will). The rules of descent and distribution determine to whom property transfers when a person dies without a will. The heir(s) who inherit(s) the property are typically children, descendants or other close relatives of the decedent.

BREAKING DOWN 'Heir'

In the event there is more than one heir with the same relation to the deceased (such as two children), they will share equally in the estate. For example, if the father of two children dies intestate and there are no other living relatives, each of the two children (who become heirs to the estate) will receive property equal to half of the estate. The part of a deceased person's estate that is given to an heir is known as an inheritance.

An inheritance can involve cash, stocks, bonds, real estate and other personal property such as automobiles, furniture and jewelry.

While heir refers to a person who receives the property of another person who has died intestate, the term heir is commonly used to describe beneficiaries as well - those who are entitled to property left by will, trust, insurance policy or some other arrangement. In fact, however, not all heirs are beneficiaries, such as the case with an estranged adult child who is intentionally left out of a will. Likewise, not all beneficiaries are heirs. For example, a person can designate a friend or companion to receive property. In this case, the friend is not an heir (he or she would not be the recipient of property if left intestate because he or she is not a child or direct relative); however, the friend is a beneficiary as designated through the deceased person's will or other arrangement.

A female heir is often referred to as an heiress, particularly if the inheritance involves substantial wealth.

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