What is Per Stirpes?

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What is per stirpes?


“Per stirpes” is a term used in wills to describe how property should be distributed when a beneficiary (who has children) dies before the will maker. Here’s how per stirpes works. 

Fred leaves his house jointly to his son Alan and his daughter Julie. But Alan dies before Fred, leaving two young children. Fred’s will states that heirs of a deceased beneficiary are to receive the property PER STIRPES: Julie will receive one-half of the property, and Alan’s two children will share his half in equal shares.

Per stirpes contrasts with “per capita,” another way of distributing a dead beneficiary’s gift. Here’s how per capita works:

Like the example above, but Fred’s will states that the property should be divided PER CAPITA: Julie and the two grandchildren will each take an equal share – one third.

At Nolo, we don't use the term "per stirpes" in our wills because we think that a will is better off without it. "Per stirpes" is an old-fashioned term frequently used (sometimes misused) by attorneys and rarely fully understood by will makers. It's intended to make sure that children inherit in the place of a deceased parent, but over the years there have been many lawsuits surrounding the term, with varying results. Because of these variables, using per stirpes may have unpredictable or unintended consequences.

Nolo wills allows you to leave your property exactly as you want and they avoid possible confusion because they ask you to identify each beneficiary by name. Nothing is left to be determined later, so nothing is left to interpretation. Doing it this way does mean that you must revise your will when a new child or grandchild comes along. However, updating your will is a good thing to do for many reasons -- for example, the death of a main beneficiary, divorce, marriage, and so on.

Learn more about Wills.

Learn more about Making Your Will.

Learn more about When to Make a New Will


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