What is the difference between per stirpes v. per capita estate distribution?

Per Stirpes = by branch = by the bloodline

Per stirpes means “by branch” in Latin, but is commonly understood to mean “by the bloodline.”

If your estate is distributed per stirpes after your death, each branch of your family will receive an equal share of your estate.

Per Stirpes ➲ Example

Imagine that Amy has three children: Brigid, Charles, and David.

At Amy’s death, all three children will receive one third of Amy’s estate ➲ if her estate was set up to pass per stirpes.

Assume that Brigid predeceased Amy, and that Brigid has two children, Eleanor and Fergus.

Now at Amy’s death, Charles and David will still receive one third of the Amy’s estate.

Eleanor and Fergus will each share in what would have been Brigid’s share, so both Eleanor and Fergus will take one sixth of Amy’s estate.

per stipes graphic
Source of example: Trust Company Oklahoma

Per Stirpes v. Per Capita

These legacy latin legal terms, whilst initially confusing, are very important and can change your childrens' (+ their heirs') inheritance.

The alternative to "per stirpes" is "per capita".

With "per capita" the share of any child beneficiary who dies before you is shared equally among your surviving children ... which means your predeceased child (and consequently, their heirs) would lose their share.

With "per stirpes", in the same scenario, instead of your predeceased child losing their share, it is preserved for their children (if any).

Additional Note:

If the term "per capita by representation" is used (also known as modern per stirpes, American per stirpes), please note that this changes the result of the “per capita" distribution so that it operates the same way as the traditional "per stirpes" distribution described above.

The use of this legal term invokes the concept of a “right of representation”.

This means the heirs of any child beneficiary who predeceases you have the right to representation so they can collect the property originally-intended to go to any predeceasing child beneficiary, so they don't lose their share.

Credits:

This FAQ was written by James D. Ford GAICD | Principal Solicitor, Blue Ocean Law Group℠.

Important Notice:

This FAQ is intended for general interest + information only.

It is not legal advice, nor should it be relied upon or used as such.

We recommend you always consult a lawyer for legal advice specifically tailored to your needs & circumstances.