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In Law, What Is a Natural Person?

James Franklin
James Franklin

A natural person is legally defined as a living human being. This definition is meant to set a natural person apart from a legal person, which is a group of people acting in a unified, often commercial enterprise but are considered by law to be acting as a single fictional or virtual individual. Legal persons are also known by the terms artificial and juristic persons. Companies, trusts, partnerships and similar entities are considered legal persons. The distinction between natural and legal persons is found in most systems of law.

The natural person and the legal person are entitled to many similar rights as well as duties. Both may sue, be sued and sign contracts. Certain rights apply only to natural persons, such as the United States' Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination. In many countries, citizens are guaranteed a set of basic rights, including life, liberty, equality before the law and the right to vote in elections. Obviously, only natural persons can marry, vote and hold public office. Most countries recognize an individual’s full rights as a natural person when he or she reaches the age of 18.

The 1886 Supreme Court case "Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad" helped establish due process protections for businesses and property.
The 1886 Supreme Court case "Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad" helped establish due process protections for businesses and property.

In the U.S. and other countries, both natural and legal persons have the right to free speech. While free speech is a cherished right for natural persons, it is also important for legal persons. This allows legal entities such as newspapers to print stories and opinions that might not always be to the government’s liking. Free expression has its limits for natural and legal persons; both can be sued for defamation and libel.

Under most national legal systems, both natural persons and legal persons are entitled to due process. A government cannot seize an individual’s or company’s property without due process, a right guaranteed in the U.S. by the 14th Amendment. This right was first established for legal entities in the 1886 Supreme Court case Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad. Indeed, it was the powerful railroad tycoons of the 19th century who helped push for companies to be allowed some of the same rights as private citizens.

The rights of legal persons are limited in other ways. In many countries, legal persons are not extended the same range of human rights as natural persons. One reason for this is that corporations typically have more resources and often are better able to defend their rights than private citizens. Indeed, critics say corporations have long used their designation as legal persons to protect themselves from government regulation and accountability. The debate about which rights corporations and other legal persons can hold continues throughout the world.

Frequently Asked Questions

In the context of the law, how does the phrase "natural person" vary from "legal person"?

An individual human being who possesses certain legal rights and obligations, such as the right to own property, enter into contracts, sue or be sued, and so on, is referred to as a natural person. Natural persons are legal entities. Companies, partnerships, and trusts are all considered to be "legal persons." In contrast to a natural person, who automatically possesses legal capacity merely by virtue of being alive, a legal person does not have legal capacity unless the law acknowledges it as such.

Are there limitations placed on the activities that natural humans can engage in?

A natural person's legal capacity can be limited by factors such as age, mental capacity, and legal position; yet, this capacity is typically quite large. For instance, children under the age of 18 may not be allowed to enter into contracts or make legal decisions, and individuals who have mental problems may have their legal competence restricted by a court if it is determined that they pose a risk to either themselves or others. Those who are legally illiterate or who have been convicted of crimes may have their legal rights severely restricted.

Is it possible for a human to have many identities for legal purposes?

A person is able to have many legal identities if they carry out their professional life under a pseudonym or stage name. Notwithstanding this, the legal rights and capabilities of a natural person are typically linked to their name and identity. A person's legal name can be established at birth, through marriage, or by a court order. Changing one's official identify might result in the invalidation of contracts and fraudulent activity.

What legal repercussions do natural persons face?

Natural beings are endowed with a number of rights and obligations under the law. What are some of the ramifications, from a legal standpoint, of being a natural person?

An individual possesses a wide variety of legal rights and obligations due to the fact that they are a natural person. These rights and obligations include the right to vote, the duty to pay taxes, and the need to obey laws and regulations. In addition, they have the ability to safeguard their interests by entering into contracts, owning property, and bringing legal actions. Yet, they are also subject to legal accountability for their activities, which includes the possibility of being held liable for damages caused by negligence or injury that was intentionally caused.

How do human rights and dignity relate to the idea of a natural person?

The idea that people should have their inherent worth and dignity recognized by the law is the foundation of the concept of a natural person. The law affirms people's worth and autonomy by treating them as legal beings with rights and obligations.It also fights authority abuses and bias based on race, gender, and religion. Modern legal systems are based on universal human dignity and human rights, which protect everyone's freedoms and rights. The 1948 UN-adopted Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) established human rights.

Discussion Comments


It's not that businesses are seen as legal people. It's that people are seen as a business. We are all natural human beings who have been brainwashed in to believing we need driver's licenses or other documents.


I think, that any individual is a legal person. An in this respect, there are legal bodies (Inc., companies, etc.) and, for instance, IE or just a citizen (or villager.)


They are legal persons, not natural.


I never imagined that businesses could technically be referred to as "legal persons" that are seen almost as one entity. That seems a little too corporate futuristic world to me, though I suppose I can see the reason for some sort of legal form "person" to which you can refer in legal cases and such with huge businesses.

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    • The 1886 Supreme Court case "Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad" helped establish due process protections for businesses and property.
      By: adamparent
      The 1886 Supreme Court case "Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad" helped establish due process protections for businesses and property.