What is a more succinct way of saying "the heir's heir"? No-one says it like that so there must be a real word.

I looked up the meanings of heir apparent and heir presumptive. Heir presumptive can refer to several situations and is generally a kind of weaker, lesser version yet it doesn't fit for the heir apparent's future heir.

For a real life example, in the UK Prince Charles is the heir apparent and Prince William will be his heir. William could be called "the second in line to the throne". But what if you're talking about something different being inherited like a family company, where there's no throne?

  • My main problem with "second in line" is that it's too grand for a company or especially something like a house. But heir also has that problem. I think the difference is that you can be the "heir" to something like your parent's small bank balance, but "second in line" to me always implies "the throne" which is on a completely different level. So there must be a word on the same level as heir, but I don't know it.
    – user8674
    May 12, 2014 at 17:54
  • 2
    Often people will use the expression 'next in line', even for quite ordinary inheritances that are nothing to do with royalty.
    – WS2
    May 12, 2014 at 18:21
  • 2
    In a few sources, it is mentioned as "heir's successor".
    – ermanen
    May 12, 2014 at 18:29
  • 1
    I think "heir somewhat less apparent" is probably the most accurate term.
    – Sven Yargs
    May 15, 2014 at 20:54
  • 2
    "Second in line" and "heir's heir" aren't necessarily the same person.
    – Rupe
    Jun 12, 2014 at 0:05

3 Answers 3


"Heir's heir" is probably the most succinct phrase since it very accurately describes what you are referring to. It looks a little awkward and if you keep following the chain of heirs it can get hard to track the various generations. But "heir" does not have a pattern similar to "[[great]grand]child" — there is no "[[great]grand]heir".

There are some slightly relevant terms that can make the description easier to understand:

order of succession — An order of succession is the sequence of those entitled to hold a high office such as head of state or an honour such as a title of nobility in the order in which they stand in line to it when it becomes vacated. This sequence may be regulated through descent or by statute.

successor — next occupant of position: somebody or something that follows another and takes up the same position

descendent — deriving or descending from an ancestor

One option, therefore, is to switch terms from "heir's heir" to something like "heir's successor." They are effectively synonyms but it does help readers understand exactly what you mean.

Phrases that do not work for various reasons:

second-in-line — Second-in-line is not necessarily the heir's heir. It often can be but it assumes that the if the current heir was suddenly not eligible (e.g., died) then that person's heir would become the current heir.

second heir — The second heir refers to the hierarchy of heirs on the same tier. The first heir could be the oldest male; the second heir could be the next oldest. This more accurately applies when the inheritance is not given to just one heir but is instead split across all heirs.


I would say prospective successor.

  • This seems too much like heir presumptive. When I looked on google it seems to be used for a politician who is expected to win an election but hasn't yet and similar. It could be "the prospective successor to the prospective successor" but that's even more unwieldy than "heir's heir"!
    – user8674
    May 13, 2014 at 8:23
  • I've heard it being used to refer to the succession process in family businesses. I specifically mentioned it because of your question's reference to the inheritance of family companies.
    – Erik Kowal
    May 13, 2014 at 8:32

Patrimony: Property or other legal entitlements inherited from (or through) one's father, especially if it has been handed down through generations in the same family, birthright.

Birthright: n. Any right, privilege, or possession to which a person is entitled by birth, such as an estate descendible by law to an heir, or civil liberty under a free constitution; esp. the rights or inheritance of the first born. [1913 Webster]

Lest there be any . . . profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. --Heb. xii. 16. [1913 Webster]

The heirs are referred to as a scion or heir at law: "A person entitled to inherit property under intestate succession laws"

  • Patrimony and birthright were things I hadn't thought of, but they don't work for what I need (it's an elected heiress who will next pass on the position to her elder sister's daughter, so not a birthright, and matrimony is completely different). I also want a word that specifically refers to the heir themselves and not to their inheritance. I don't understand how "heir at law" means the heir's heir, all I find is about invalid wills. Scion is correct but too vague - in my example in the question, Prince Harry is equally a scion (and I think at least their cousins are too).
    – user8674
    May 12, 2014 at 18:56
  • So you want a term for a primogeniture's heir that was delayed via the 2nd eldest child inheritance
    – Third News
    May 12, 2014 at 19:05
  • No, it's not primogeniture, only by election (restricted to the family - not sure what this would be called - like a matrilineal tanist almost? but where the tanist's successors are chosen too? completely fictional anyway, I assume), the eldest was never in the running. I wouldn't expect there to be a term for this specific instance which is why I didn't mention it in the question, only what the word is for an heir's heir, someone second in line.
    – user8674
    May 12, 2014 at 19:13
  • I know but I'm trying to clarify: Was it the primogeniture who gave up her inheritance (sometimes done for tax reasons/lack of heir at the time of inheritance) or she was bypassed? Historically, English aristocracy is well acquainted with every minutia, and I'm researching from their experiences
    – Third News
    May 12, 2014 at 19:28

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