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At what age would one stop being labeled an orphan? I mean, if one's parents died when one was over 20, for example, could one still be called an orphan?
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There is no fixed universal age cut-off for being called an orphan. My sense is that someone who is too young to be able to live independently would qualify for that appellation.

Wills in some states in the US are settled in "Orphans' Court". An orphan in the "legal" definition is a minor.

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Today, the Orphans' Court hears all matters involving decedents' estates which are contested and supervises all of those estates which are probated judicially. It approves accounts, awards of personal representative's commissions, and attorney's fees in all estates. The Court also has concurrent jurisdiction with the circuit court in the guardianships of minors and their property.
It seems to me that only minors can be properly called orphans. Of course, that brings up the question "What's a minor?". Each jurisdiction (state, country, province, whatever) defines, by law, what a minor is.
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This is an interesting question, and oddly, I was just thinking about it a few days ago. I had met someone - an adult - and in the course of the conversation he referred to himself as an orphan, although he had been an adult when his parents died. I think he still feels their loss very keenly, and when people speak of their parents, he is very aware of the fact that he no longer has either parent alive. So in this case, his "orphan-hood" is more a matter of mind and spirit than a legal definition.

How could you possibly "correct" a person who described himself that way? Can you imagine this conversation?

"You're not an oprhan"

"Neither of my parents are alive. What would you call me?"

"An adult whose parents are no longer alive."

"That sounds like an orphan to me."
Grammar GeekHow could you possibly "correct" a person who described himself that way?
Well, I wouldn't correct him, neither would he convince me that he is an orphan. While he may have been orphaned at a young age, if he is now an adult he can't be called an orphan. And he certainly can't be called an orphan if he was an adult when his parents died.

If you follow that logic you have seventy and eighty and ninety year old "orphans" running around which, I think you will agree, is more than a little ridiculous.
And then there was a the case of the teenaged brothers who murdered their parents, and then begged the court to have pity on them. After all they were poor orphans.
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< So in this case, his "orphan-hood" is more a matter of mind and spirit than a legal definition. >

Now that is an interesting distinction.
RayHAnd he certainly can't be called an orphan if he was an adult when his parents died.

What difference would it make, anywhere and to anyone? There's no special tax filing status, no preferred seating at the movie theater, no discounts at a restaurant. If someone was very much conscious of the loss of their parents, who would care if that person thought of himself as an orphan, at any age?

Many elderly are very aware when they are the last member of their family left - no siblings, no aunts or uncles, no cousins, and no parents.

I guess I don't see anything related to grief (which is what I'm talking about with my mental, rather than legal, status) as "ridiculous." It's how people feel about themselves.
< which is what I'm talking about with my mental, rather than legal, status) as "ridiculous." It's how people feel about themselves.>

Like those people who claim to be one-tenth Lakota, Navaho, Acoma, Anishinabe, etc. and insist they feel it. ;-)
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