Primary tabs

An orphan is a child whose parents have died. The term is sometimes used to describe any person whose parents have died, though this is less common. A child who only has one living parent is also sometimes considered an orphan. For example, USCIS lists a child with one parent who cannot properly care for them as an orphan.

A child can also be considered a legal orphan. In this scenario, the child has living parents whose parental rights have been terminated. If the child were later adopted, they would no longer be considered a legal orphan.

Orphan can also be used in other contexts, such as:

  • Orphan diseases, which are diseases that either affect fewer than 200,000 or are common but ignored when developing medicine.

  • Orphan drugs, which are drugs developed to treat diseases that affect fewer than 200,000 individuals.

  • Orphan shares, which according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are shares that may be equitably attributed to parties that are insolvent or defunct.

[Last updated in July of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]