Legal Dictionary


Definition of inheritance



    Recorded since 1473, from to inherit, itself from Old French enheriter "make heir, appoint as heir," from Late Latin inhereditare "to appoint as heir," from Latin in- "in" + hereditare "to inherit," from heres (gen. heredis) "heir".


inheritance (countable and uncountable; plural inheritances)

  1. The passing of title to an estate upon death.
  2. (countable) That which a person is entitled to inherit, by law or testament.
  3. (biology) The hereditary passing of biological attributes from ancestors to their offspring.
  4. (computing) In object-oriented programming, the mechanism whereby parts of a superclass are available to instances of its subclass.

Related terms

  • inherit
  • inheritable
  • inheritor
  • preheritance


  • "inheritance" in the Online Etymology Dictionary, Douglas Harper, 2001

Further reading

Inheritance is the practice of passing on property, titles, debts, and obligations upon the death of an individual. It has long played an important role in human societies. The rules of inheritance differ between societies and have changed over time.


In jurisdictions, an heir is a person who is entitled to receive a share of the decedent's property, via the rules of inheritance in the jurisdiction where the decedent died or owned property at the time of death. Strictly speaking, one becomes an heir only upon the death of the decedent. It is improper to speak of the "heir" of a living person, since the exact identity of the persons entitled to inherit are not determined until the time of death. In a case where an individual has such a position that only her/his own death before that of the decedent would prevent the individual from becoming an heir, the individual is called an heir apparent. There is a further concept of jointly inheriting, pending renunciation by all but one, which is called coparceny.

In modern legal use, the terms inheritance and heir refer only to succession of property from a decedent who has died intestate. It is a common mistake to refer to the recipients of property through a will as heirs when they are properly called beneficiaries, devisees, or legatees.


  1. Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.


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