What Does Per Stirpes Mean?

I frequently get clients who ask me this question: “What does ‘per stirpes’ mean?”  (often they pronounce this as per stripes).  In fact, this is a legal term that describes how property will be distributed upon the death of the person writing their will or trust.

Distribution Per Stirpes

When your will or trust says that your property will go to your descendants, per stirpes, this means that upon your death, your property will be divided and distributed to your children in equal shares.  If a child has died before you their share will be distributed to their children in equal shares.  If the child that has died does not leave descendants, then their share will go back in the pot to be distributed among your surviving children.

Example

Distributing property per stirpes means that grandchildren may not always receive equal shares if their parents have predeceased the testator (will-maker).

For instance: the testator  has four children.  Two children predecease the testator leaving children; one had two children and the other had four.  Now, the testator’s property will be divided into four shares for her four children.  The two children that are still living will get their full shares, but the two that are gone will have their shares divided among their surviving children.  The child that left two kids will have their share divided into two shares and distributed to two children.  The child that left four kids will have their share divided into four shares and distributed to four children.  The net result is that two of the testator’s grandchildren would receive twice as much as the other four.

This distribution scheme does not stop at grandchildren, but keeps going down the family line.  So, if a grandchild dies leaving children, then the grandchild’s share will be divided and distributed among their children, and so forth.

Moral of the story: Using the term per stirpes contains a lot of information for an attorney and the other people distributing property, and it is important to know what it means so that your wishes are met!