What Is Per Stirpes?
The meaning of “Per stirpes” is a legal term (which in Latin means “by branch”) usually included in the Last Will and Testament or beneficiary designations for individual retirement accounts (IRAs). By branch, as in down the family tree branches.
If a beneficiary (someone who would receive an inheritance), predeceases (dies before) the testator (the person who made the Will), the beneficiary’s share of the inheritance would trickle down the family tree and go to the beneficiary’s children. (and if they are not alive, then the grandchildren). Spouses are not included in a per stirpes distribution.
Per Stirpes vs Per Capita
While per stirpes means “by branch” in Latin, per capita means “by the heads,” meaning property is divided equally among surviving descendants, whether they are in the same generation or not.
A deceased person’s share is not set aside for their children but goes back into the pool of assets to be distributed. However, everyone’s share becomes smaller as it is divided among more people.
Per Capita Example
Jennifer puts in her Will that her estate shall be divided per capita among her three children, Gaby, Brandon, and Jason. Gaby has two kids, Phoenix and Sky. Jason also has a child, Aubrey.
If Gaby dies, her portion remains with Jennifer’s other assets and is divided equally among Jennifer’s two living children, Brandon and Jason, as well as Gaby’s surviving heirs, Phoenix and Sky.
So instead of inheritance getting divided three ways, it is now split four ways, and Gaby’s “branch” is getting one-half of Jennifer’s estate.
Per Stirpes Example
If Jennifer had put “Per Stirpes” in her Will, instead of Per Capita, then Gaby’s share of the inheritance would go to her children, Phoenix and Sky. And her siblings still each get one-third of Jennifer’s estate.
Per Stirpes FAQs
Which is Better: Per Stirpes vs Per Capita?
It’s obvious that the dynamics of every family are different. So there is no right answer to that question. The testator would have to make that choice based on their personal situation.
How Many Generations Does Per Stirpes Cover?
Per Stirpes determines that if a beneficiary of inheritance passes away, their share goes to their heirs. The inheritance will continue to move down the family tree until a suitable heir is found. If no living descendants exist, the inheritance will then move on to other family members.
Distributing a loved one’s assets is never easy. Especially when making sure your Will has very clear terms—and that those terms reflect your true intentions. This can make the process much less difficult for your beneficiaries and heirs.
Marketing & Technology Director at RWC, LLC, Attorneys & Counselors at Law
Ukraine born and Israel / Miami, FL raised. University of Miami graduate in the Marketing field.
Mom to a girl, a boy, and a Siberian Husky.