Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Orphan Definition:

A person who has lost one or both of his or her natural parents.

In Hunter v Dow, Justice Mathers of the Manitoba King's Bench wrote:

"The term (orphan) is generally applied to a child who has lost both parents, although under certain circumstances it has been held to apply to a child bereft of either."

In re Byrd's Will, Justice Robert McDowell of the Surrogate's Court, Steuben County, New York, used these words:

"The real question hinges on the definition of the word orphan and what denotes an orphan within the meaning and intention of the testator.

"The word orphan appears not to have received a judicial interpretation or definition in this State, and the court is indeed reluctant to make a fortress out of the dictionaries and conclude the construction of the word orphan (is) any person (but particularly a minor or infant) who has lost both (or one) of his or her parents; and a minor or infant who has lost both of his or her parents.

"Sometimes the term is applied to a person who has lost only one of his parents."

The term orphan may be defined in a relevant statute in which event, that definition prevails in cases falling under the statute. For example the 1978 edition of Canada's Immigration Regulations defined an orphan as follows:

"Orphan means a person whose father and mother are both deceased."


  • Hunter v Dow, [1917] 3 W.W.R. 132
  • In re Byrd's Will, 308 NYS (2d) 97 (1906)
  • Regulations Respecting Admission and Removal from Canada of Persons who are not Canadian Citizens, SOR/78-172

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