What is Per Stirpes?

shutterstock_65729302Some words in your Last Will and Testament may seem like a foreign language to you, but they could have significant impact on your beneficiaries. Per stirpes, a Latin phrase that means “by the roots,” is used in many Wills to define how your estate is divided upon your death.

But what does it mean?

A more common phrase, per capita, may help you understand the meaning of per stirpes. Per capita means “by the head.” Here’s a situation to illustrate the difference between per capita and per stirpes.

Say you’re a widow. The value of your estate at the time of your death is $1 million. You have two children, Jennifer and Ryan. Jennifer has two children, and Ryan has one.

If your Will states that your assets are to be distributed to your survivors per capita, then each gets an equal share of your estate. In this case, five people each get $200,000.

On the other hand, if your Will states that your assets should be distributed to your two children or in the event that one or both predecease you, to their children per stirpes, that would look very different.

  • Say your daughter predeceases you. That means that your son Ryan inherits half of your estate, and Jennifer’s two children share the other half. Ryan gets $500,000, and Jennifer’s 2 children each get $250,000.
  • If both of your children predecease you, Jennifer’s two children share half of your estate, each getting $250,000, and Ryan’s son gets the other half, $500,000. That means that one grandchild gets twice as much!

This may or may not be what you actually intended. The best way to ensure that your intentions are accurately reflected in your Will is to make sure the language conveys exactly what your wishes are.

This can be tricky. You need a Connecticut estate planning attorney who knows the appropriate language.

Give us a call at (860) 236-7673 so we can help you craft a clearly written Will that spells out exactly how you want your estate divided among your beneficiaries, under any possible scenario.

If you get it right now, there will be no problems later.


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