Heir apparent

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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.

These terms most commonly describe heirs to hereditary titles, particularly monarchies.

Most monarchies give 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.

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.

Daughters (and their lines) may inherit titles that descend according to male-preference primogeniture, but only in default of sons (and their heirs). That is, a female has just as much right to a place in the order of succession as a male, but ranks behind her brothers, regardless of their age.

Thus, normally, even an only daughter will not be her father's (or mother's) heiress apparent, since at any time a brother might be born who, though younger, would be heir apparent. Hence, she is an heiress presumptive

Obviously, in a system of absolute primogeniture that does not consider gender, female heirs apparent occur. Several European monarchies that have adopted such systems in the last few decades furnish practical examples.

But even in legal systems (such as the UK's) that apply male-preference primogeniture, female heirs apparent are by no means impossible: if a male heir apparent dies leaving no sons but at least one daughter, then the eldest daughter would replace her father as heir apparent to whatever throne or title is concerned, but only when it has become clear that the widow of the deceased isn't pregnant. Then, as the representative of her father's line she would place ahead of any more distant relatives.