What Does “Per Stirpes” Mean?

First things first. How do we pronounce per stirpes? Say it like “purr stir peas” or “pur stur-peez”.

Now, what does per stirpes mean? It’s a Latin term translated as “by branch” or “by representation”. Per stirpes is commonly used in estate planning (or in a will) to describe how property is to be distributed between beneficiaries. It’s a convenient term to minimize the need to change the will whenever a beneficiary is born or dies.

Per stirpes basically means that all beneficiaries will receive an equal share. If any of those beneficiaries is deceased, their descendants will receive their share. (This is where the term “by representation” applies.)

Per Capita vs Per Stirpes

Per capita is another term commonly used in estate planning. It is Latin for “by head” and means that property is distributed equally between only the living beneficiaries.

Let’s take a closer look at the difference between per capita and per stirpes with the following scenario:

  • Sam has 3 children: Alex, Blake, and Cameron.
  • Alex has 2 children: Piper and Quinn.
  • Blake and Cameron have no children.
  • Alex, Blake, Cameron, Piper, and Quinn are all beneficiaries of Sam’s estate.

Per Capita

Because per capita means the estate is divided equally among only the living beneficiaries, if a beneficiary has predeceased the decedent, their share gets distributed evenly among the rest of the beneficiaries.

Using the above example, here are 4 scenarios showing what a per capita distribution might look like when Sam dies:

  1. Alex, Blake, Cameron, Piper, and Quinn each receive a ⅕ share of the estate.
  2. If Alex has predeceased Sam, then Blake, Cameron, Piper, and Quinn each receive a ¼ share of the estate.
  3. If Blake has predeceased Sam, then Alex, Piper, Quinn, and Cameron each receive a ¼ share of the estate.
  4. If Alex and Piper have predeceased Sam, then Quinn, Blake, and Cameron each receive a ⅓ share of the estate.

Per Stirpes

Because per stirpes means “by branch”, it’s helpful to think of a family tree. Each branch of that tree is entitled to an equal share of the estate.  Using the above example, here are 4 scenarios showing what per stirpes distribution might look like when Sam dies:

  1. Alex, Blake, and Cameron (the 3 branches of the family tree) each receive a ⅓ share of the estate.
  2. If Alex has predeceased Sam, the estate is still divided into thirds (for the 3 branches of the family tree). Blake and Cameron each receive a ⅓ share of the estate. Alex’s ⅓ share is divided equally between Piper and Quinn, leaving them each with a ⅙ share of the estate.
  3. If Blake has predeceased Sam, there are only 2 branches in the family tree, so Alex and Cameron will each receive a ½ share of the estate. Piper and Quinn will receive nothing.
  4. If Alex and Piper have predeceased Sam, there are still 3 branches represented in the family tree. Blake and Cameron will each receive a ⅓ share of the estate. Quinn will also receive a ⅓ share “by representation” of what Alex would have received.

Is Per Stirpes a Good Idea?

Because it covers the typical family situation and doesn’t require amendments whenever a child is born or a beneficiary dies, per stirpes is used in estate planning more often than per capita.

Estate planning is a very personal process and differs from one individual to the next. Terms like per stirpes are often misunderstood and are an example of the complexities involved in drafting a will.

To make sure that your intentions are clearly understood and that your will sets out your objectives without risk of misinterpretation or possible invalidations, consult with an estate planning attorney.

The friendly estate planning lawyers of Osuji & Smith can help you choose the best plan to carry out your wishes.

We can even review your existing will and recommend any necessary changes to suit your current situation. Our lawyers are prepared to answer all questions regarding estate planning. Contact Osuji & Smith Lawyers.

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