What does “per stirpes” mean in estate planning?

There are many confusing terms that come with estate planning and some of these are important for individuals who are dealing with a situation in which a person passed away intestate, or without a will. One of these terms is “per stirpes.”

This term is Latin for “by roots” and has to do with the relationship between specific beneficiaries in the estate plan. When you’re creating your estate plan, you can use the per stirpes designation to set a plan for what happens with specific portions of the estate if the beneficiary you designate passes away before they get their inheritance. 

Here’s how this works:

Let’s say you have three children, so you leave a portion of the estate to them to split evenly. This means that each of your children will receive a 1/3 share of that portion. But, what happens if one of your children passes away before they get their share? 

If you don’t have the portion designated as being split per stirpes, your two surviving children will divide that portion in half with each of them getting a half. This could mean that your deceased child’s children don’t receive anything.

If you have the portion designated as being split per stirpes, the portion would still be divided into thirds. Your two surviving children would each get a 1/3 share. The children of your deceased child would each receive an equal share of their parent’s 1/3 share of the portion of the estate. 

Discussing the per stirpes designation with your attorney can help you to determine whether you need to include it in your estate plan. Taking the time to get your estate plan in order now can give you peace of mind later.