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What does “per stirpes” mean?

Per stirpes is a useful tool that ensures that assets are properly distributed, even if the original beneficiary has unexpectedly passed.

Posted on January 3, 2022 by Alex Gauthier
Per Stirpes Definiton

“Per stirpes” is Latin and means “by branch,” thereby referring to the way in which an inheritance is meant to be passed down according to the family tree. As such, the descendents of a beneficiary may be considered representatives of their parents if the parent happens to pass away before they’re eligible to receive their inheritance.

When drafting a will, one of the main purposes is to ensure that your assets are distributed to beneficiaries of your choosing. That way, you can rest easy knowing that your children and spouse are financially taken care of, that your grandchild receives that family heirloom they’ve always loved, or that your closest friends will receive that painting they’ve always admired.

However, sometimes a named beneficiary dies before the testator—the drafter of the will—passes away. In order to plan ahead for that kind of scenario, testators may want to include a “per stirpes” stipulation in their will, which establishes that a beneficiary’s heirs will inherit their share of the inheritance, should the beneficiary pass away before the testator.

Per stirpes is a useful tool that ensures that assets are properly distributed, even if the original beneficiary has unexpectedly passed. That way, a testator can avoid being left with a residuary estate after their death, meaning that their assets remain unaccounted for and are then distributed by the probate court in accordance with government laws of succession, thereby running the risk of assets not ending up in the hands of intended beneficiaries and their families.

Per stirpes needs to be explicitly noted in the will for the stipulation to be legally binding, and needs to specify what beneficiary it’s applied to. So for example, if someone wants to leave an inheritance for their son Marco, but also wants to ensure that their son’s children are entitled to the inheritance if something should happen to Marco, then they’d write “to my son Marco, per stirpes.”

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