Definition of heir apparent
heir apparent (plural heirs apparent)
- (usually monarchy) Someone who will definitely inherit, assuming he survives the one from whom he is inheriting.
An heir apparent is an heir who, short of a fundamental change in the situation, cannot be displaced from inheriting.
An heir presumptive, by contrast, is an heir currently in line to inherit a title, but who could be displaced at any time by certain events.
Today these terms most commonly describe heirs to hereditary titles, particularly monarchies. They are also used metaphorically to indicate an "anointed" successor to any position of power, e.g., a political or corporate leader.
The phrase is only occasionally found used as a title, where it usually is capitalized ("Heir Apparent"). Most monarchies give (or gave) the heir apparent the title of Crown Prince or a more specific title, such as Prince of Orange in the Netherlands, Prince of Asturias in Spain, or Prince of Wales in the United Kingdom.
This article primarily describes the term heir apparent in a hereditary system regulated by laws of primogeniture- as opposed to cases where a monarch has a say in naming the heir.
Heir apparent versus heir presumptive
In a hereditary system governed by some form of primogeniture, an heir apparent is easily identifiable as the person whose position as first in the line of succession is secure, regardless of future births. An heir presumptive, by contrast, can always be "bumped down" in the succession by the birth of somebody more closely related in a legal sense (according to that form of primogeniture) to the current title-holder.
The clearest example occurs in the case of a title-holder with no children. If at any time they produce children, they (the offspring of the title-holder) rank ahead of whatever more "distant" relative (the title-holder's sibling, perhaps, or a nephew or cousin) previously was heir presumptive.
Many legal systems assume childbirth is always possible, regardless of age or health. The possibility of a fertile octogenarian, though slim in reality, is never ruled out. In such circumstances a person may be, in a practical sense, the heir apparent but still, legally speaking, heir presumptive.
- Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.