Primogeniture is a system of inheritance in which a person’s property passes to their firstborn legitimate child upon their death. The term comes from the Latin "primo” which means first, and “genitura” which relates to a person’s birth.
Historically, primogeniture favored male heirs, also called male-preference primogeniture. Under this regime, the eldest living son would inherit the entirety of his parent’s estate. A daughter could inherit if and only if she had no living brothers or the descendants of deceased brothers. This is in opposition to absolute primogeniture, where the firstborn child regardless of gender would inherit. Today, primogeniture has largely been abandoned. Instead, a person’s property is dispersed through a will or through the laws of intestate succession. Generally, all children inherit equally from an estate unless otherwise specified by a decedent.
Primogeniture was a common method of determining succession in hereditary monarchies throughout the world. Historically, male-preference primogeniture was more common. In some regimes, all sons could inherit a throne before any daughter, called Cognatic primogeniture. Generally, a daughter could inherit if she had no living brothers through semi-Salic law. Other regimes instead followed Agnatic primogeniture, in which either gender could rule as long as they were descended from a male of the royal line. In this scenario, an elder daughter could be crowned but her children could not succeed her; instead, she could be succeeded by a sibling, a sibling’s child, or some other descendant from the male line. Today, most monarchies who traditionally favorite male-preference primogeniture have since abandoned it for absolute primogeniture, though this is not true for every country. Matrilineal primogeniture, which prioritizes the female line, has also been used by some regimes, though it is less common.
[Last updated in July of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]