What Does Per Stirpes Mean?


Okay, so you are reviewing your estate planning documents and this odd word spelled "per stirpes" keeps coming up.  You know it has to be important because it is in the section of your document where it talks about who gets your property after you die.  Your documents many say something like, "I leave all of my remaining property to my descendants, per stirpes." 

What does it mean?

Per stirpes is a Latin word meaning "by representation."  In the context of estate planning, it means that your descendants will take their shares by representation, as opposed to "per capita," which means by total head count.

A few examples should help clarify this.  Assume you have 3 children, A, B and C.  Also assume that child A has 2 children, A-1 and A-2.  Child B has no children.  Child C has 1 child, C-1. Your will or trust states that you leave your estate to your then living descendants, per stirpes. Here is what will happen under the following circumstances:

  1. If A, B and C all survive you, they each get 1/3. - you treated your kids equally.

  2. I A dies before you, but B and C survive you, A's 2 children (A-1 and A-2) will take by representation of what their deceased parent (A) would have taken, which means that they will equally divide A's 1/3 share. So, A-1 takes 1/6, and A-2 takes 1/6.  Child B and C will still each get 1/3.

  3. I A and C survive you, but B dies before you, A and C would each get 1/2.  This is because B has no children so B's share won't be created and no one is under B to take by representation.  Instead, B's share gets divided among B's siblings.

Hope this helps.