1 of 2


: one who receives property from an ancestor : one who is entitled to inherit property
was her father's sole heir
: one who inherits or is entitled to succeed to a hereditary rank, title, or office
heir to the throne
: one who receives or is entitled to receive something other than property from a parent or predecessor
saw himself as the logical heir to the slain dictator
heirless adjective
heirship noun


2 of 2


heired; heiring; heirs

transitive verb

chiefly dialectal

Example Sentences

Noun His heirs could inherit millions of dollars. The king left no heirs when he died.
Recent Examples on the Web
Lisa Marie Presley, who died Thursday at age 54, was the eventual sole heir to her father Elvis’ estate, as well as his sprawling Memphis, Tennessee mansion, Graceland. Aditi Sangal, CNN, 13 Jan. 2023 Business legends like Estée Lauder heir Leonard Lauder and investment billionaire Charles Schwab have occupied YPO’s membership ranks. Paige Mcglauflin, Fortune, 8 Jan. 2023 But when the rich, spoiled heir makes a major PR misstep, his family cuts him off and ships him off to a snowy small town to live with his grandparents. Maureen Lee Lenker, EW.com, 2 Dec. 2022 His heir, the sickly boy-king Edward VI, died in 1553. Dominic Green, WSJ, 12 Nov. 2022 Hailee Steinfeld, as his biggest fan (and heir), offers a warm lesson in what makes a hero (and hopefully gets her own show). Christopher Borrelli, Chicago Tribune, 11 Nov. 2022 The timing of Wednesday’s season premier is fortuitous for Netflix: Interest in the British monarchy is high after the recent death of an iconic queen and the accession of the longest heir-in-waiting. Karla Adam, Washington Post, 8 Nov. 2022 While Abraham’s life awaits twists and turns, Isaac will ultimately be born, serving as Abraham’s covenantal heir, the second patriarch. Rabbi Avi Weiss, Sun Sentinel, 31 Oct. 2022 The heir to the throne, 54, spoke about mother Queen Margrethe II's decision to strip four of her grandchildren — the sons and daughter of his younger brother, Prince Joachim — of their prince and princess titles for the first time Thursday. Janine Henni, Peoplemag, 27 Oct. 2022
Suddenly in financial straits, Fisher, heir to the Gap fortune, is forced to sell the A’s. Scott Ostler, San Francisco Chronicle, 8 Jan. 2023 Abigail Kinoiki Kekaulike Kawananakoa, heir to a considerable sugar fortune and a surviving descendant of the royal family that once ruled over the Hawaiian Kingdom, died Sunday age 96. Leo Sands, Washington Post, 13 Dec. 2022 Prince Oak, heir to Elfhame, takes center stage in this new tale, eight years after the Battle of the Serpent. Leah Campano, Seventeen, 12 Dec. 2022 But if the Denver Broncos could fetch $4.65 billion earlier this year in the sale to Walmart heir Rob Walton & Co., what does that make the Commanders worth? Jarrett Bell, USA TODAY, 4 Nov. 2022 She was accompanied by her son and heir Prince Charles. Simon Perry, PEOPLE.com, 15 July 2022 Today, King Ranch is still in the family, now the Klebergs (heir Jay Kleberg is currently running for Texas land commissioner as a Democrat). Emma Balter, Chron, 1 Nov. 2022 In what many will dub one of the key takeaways from the latter half of the docuseries and perhaps the royal family member with the most to answer for is William, Prince of Wales and heir to the throne. Thr Staff, The Hollywood Reporter, 15 Dec. 2022 Moms for Liberty has created a political action committee in Florida, and won over influential conservative donors such as Julie Fancelli, heir to the Publix supermarket fortune. Alexandra Alter, New York Times, 12 Dec. 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'heir.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History



Middle English eir, eyre, heir, borrowed from Anglo-French heir, going back to Vulgar Latin *hērem, *hēre, taken as oblique forms (by declension reassignment) of Latin hērēd-, hērēs, from hēr- (probably going back to Indo-European heh1ro- "abandoned, derelict," whence also Greek chêros "widowed, orphaned, bereaved," chérā "widow") + -ēd-, perhaps a suffixal element

Note: Latin hērēd- has been directly compared with the base of Greek chērōstaí "kinsmen inheriting the property of a person lacking closer relatives" (with the agent suffix -tēs). Opposing the interpretation of *-ēd-/*-ōd- as a suffixal element is an older explanation that sees the etymon as a compound of heh1ro- and the verbal base *h1ed- "eat"—the whole hence meaning approximately "that which devours what is left behind." (The Greek outcome would then be from heh1ro-h1d-, with zero grade of the verb.) The adjective heh1ro- has been taken as a derivative of the verbal base heh1- "let go, leave behind" (see go entry 1).


Middle English erren, heyren, derivative of eir, eyre heir entry 1

First Known Use


13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


14th century, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of heir was in the 13th century

Dictionary Entries Near heir

Cite this Entry

“Heir.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/heir. Accessed 27 Jan. 2023.

Kids Definition


: a person who inherits or has the right to inherit property
: a person who has legal claim to a title or a throne when the person holding it dies

Legal Definition


: one who inherits or is entitled to succeed to the possession of property after the death of its owner: as
: one who by operation of law inherits the property and especially the real property of a person who dies without leaving a valid will
used in jurisdictions whose law is based on English common law

called also heir at law, heir general, legal heir

compare issue
in the civil law of Louisiana : one who succeeds to the estate of a person by will or especially by operation of law see also intestacy, unworthy compare ancestor, devisee, legatee, next of kin, successor
apparent heir
: heir apparent in this entry
beneficiary heir
in the civil law of Louisiana : an heir who exercises the benefit of inventory which limits the amount of his or her liability for the decedent's debts
bodily heir
: heir of the body in this entry
forced heir
: an heir who cannot be disinherited except for causes recognized by law
especially, in the civil law of Louisiana : an heir who because of youth or mental or physical infirmity cannot care for himself or herself and who cannot be deprived of his or her lawful portion of the decedent's estate by disinherison without just cause see also legitime
heir ab intestato \ -​ˌab-​ˌin-​tes-​ˈtā-​tō, -​ˌäb-​ˌin-​tes-​ˈtä-​tō \ plural heirs ab intestato
in the civil law of Louisiana : an heir that takes only by operation of the laws governing intestate succession
heir apparent plural heirs apparent
: an heir whose right to an inheritance cannot be voided or undone except by exclusion under a valid will if he or she survives the ancestor

called also apparent heir

compare heir presumptive in this entry
heir at law
heir general plural heirs general
heir in tail
: an heir to a fee-tail estate

called also heir of entail

heir of the body
: an heir who is a lineal descendant especially as contrasted with a collateral descendant

called also bodily heir

heir presumptive plural heirs presumptive
: an heir whose right to inherit may be defeated by the birth of a nearer relative or by exclusion under a valid will

called also presumptive heir

compare heir apparent in this entry
instituted heir
in the civil law of Louisiana : an heir who is named in the will but whose legacy will fall to a substitute legatee under a vulgar substitution in the event that he or she refuses the legacy or dies before the testator

called also instituted legatee

irregular heir
in the civil law of Louisiana : an heir who inherits a right of action to the estate as distinguished from seisin

Note: This class of heirs was eliminated as of January 1, 1982. Formerly, a decedent's illegitimate children and spouse were considered irregular heirs.

legal heir
: heir sense a
specifically, in the civil law of Louisiana : an heir who receives seisin immediately after the death of the intestate by operation of law compare irregular heir in this entry

Note: Prior to 1982 the Louisiana Civil Code distinguished between legal and irregular heirs who were required to go through an additional procedure in order to receive possession of the property. This division of heirs was eliminated in the 1981 revision of the Civil Code.

natural heir
: an heir (as a child) whose status as an heir arises from especially close blood relationship as distinguished from one (as the state) whose status arises by operation of statute
presumptive heir
: heir presumptive in this entry
pretermitted heir
: a descendant of a testator who would be an heir under the laws of intestacy but who is not named to take under the will

Note: Most states have statutes requiring a share of the estate to go to a pretermitted heir, especially one born after the execution of the will, on the assumption that the omission was unintentional.

right heir
: an heir by blood
: the particular heir granted or devised an estate tail as distinguished from the heirs in general
testamentary heir
in the civil law of Louisiana : an heir who inherits under a will
heirless adjective
heirship noun

More from Merriam-Webster on heir

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!

The Great British Vocabulary Quiz

  • union jack speech bubble
  • Named after Sir Robert Peel, what are British police called?
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.

Solve today's spelling word game by finding as many words as you can with using just 7 letters. Longer words score more points.

Can you make 12 words with 7 letters?