Per Stirpes Definition: How To Name Beneficiaries in a Will

You probably already have considered who you wish to receive a portion of your property after you pass away as you move through your life: my spouse will keep the house, my children will receive my sentimental belongings, etc. When you plan your estate, it’s important to consider who should be the “backup” beneficiary. You can make this decision more efficient by using a per stirpes distribution.

What Does Per Stirpes Mean?

If one of your beneficiaries dies before you, you can add the Latin term per stirpes to your last will and testament to tell who will inherit your assets. In the event that one of your beneficiaries dies before you, you can name contingent beneficiaries for your estate by using per stirpes. Per stirpes is an effective way to name contingent beneficiaries.

Per Stirpes examples

In a per stirpes distribution, assets can only be passed down to the beneficiary’s direct descendants (such as children and grandchildren). A per stirpes distribution does not apply to other relatives of a beneficiary — like their parents and siblings. Think about it this way: a per stirpes distribution flows down a beneficiary’s family tree, not upwards.

Suppose you have three children — David, Edward, and Fiona — and you want to give them all an equal share when you die. However, David passes away before you, leaving two children of his own. If you use a per stirpes distribution, then David’s children will receive equal shares of your estate if you use per stirpes distribution. The children of David receive one-sixth of your estate, while Edward and Fiona receive one-third.

Per Stirpes vs Per Capita

A per capita distribution divides property equally among descendants of the testator in the same generation nearest to the testator, also known as “share and share alike.” Each recipient is named individually by the estate holder, or a group is named to receive the assets, such as all of the estate holder’s children, grandchildren, or both. A deceased person’s share is not set aside but mixed with the estate and divided among the other recipients.

Among Beth’s three children, David, Edward, and Fiona, she specified that her estate is split per capita. David has one child, DJ, and Edward has two children, Hannah and Ian. When David dies, his portion will remain with Beth’s other assets and will be divided equally among Edward and Fiona, the two living children. DJ, Hannah, and Ian do not inherit anything.

When Shouldn’t You Use a Per Stirpes Distribution?

The per stirpes distribution may not be your best option in some cases. For example, you may want to use another option if:

  • Rather than distributing your estate to all your living beneficiaries, you might prefer to divide it up by the number of beneficiaries you have.
  • The contingent beneficiaries are those who will receive the benefit of your estate if one of your primary beneficiaries passes away before you do.
  • Only biological or adopted children are legally considered your children in a blended family – stepchildren are not. The result is that if you have stepchildren or stepgrandchildren, they cannot inherit. Let’s say David had just one biological child and one stepchild. He will only receive assets as part of a per stirpes distribution if he has only one biological child and one stepchild.
  • Having a map out of your primary and secondary beneficiaries may be a good idea if you’re worried an heir will contest your will after you pass away. We can use our previous example to explain that if David dies before you, then his two children will inherit his share of your estate equally. You can also disinherit anyone you don’t want to receive assets from your estate. It’s also possible to include a no-contest clause in your will if it’s allowed in your state.

How Do You Write Per Stirpes in a Will?

You can ensure that your last will and testament outline how your assets and property will be distributed to your beneficiaries upon your death. This contract is designed to make it easier for a probate court to divide your estate and distribute your assets to the people you wish to inherit after your death. You must do this so that your family does not have to deal with unnecessary stress and disagreements when deciding how to divide your estate. This last will and testament sample can be customized and downloaded to meet your needs. 

How Many Generations Does Per Stirpes Cover?

As mentioned earlier, if a beneficiary dies “out of order,” it is the case that the inheritance that would have been awarded to him or her as the deceased beneficiary is given to his or her descendants, thus covering the grandchildren of the testator as well.

Key Takeaways

If the beneficiary dies before the testator, the inheritance will pass to the beneficiary’s heirs. All members of a family tree are considered descendants. The child may represent the parent if a parent passes away before the decedent. An estate planning attorney or law firm can be instrumental in ensuring your wishes are carried through, according to 2022 law.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Does Per Stirpes Literally Mean?

There are times when a beneficiary passes away before the will-writer, and these terms are frequently used to clarify how the gift will be distributed — per stirpes means literally “by branches,” “by roots,” or “by the foot,” and per capita means literally “by the head.”

What Does Per Stirpes Mean For Beneficiaries?

The Latin term per stirpes can be used in a will to indicate who will inherit your assets if one of your beneficiaries passes away before you. If one of your beneficiaries passes away before you, their share of your estate passes to their descendants following their death.

Does Per Stirpes Mean Bloodline?

Latin per stirpes meaning is “by branch,” but it is usually understood as “by the bloodline.”

Article by James Finsweet

James Finsweet is a Head of legal department in LawBrother Ltd. At Lawrina, James contributes his experience in law practice and shares opinions on law regulations and news.

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