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What Does ‘Per Stirpes’ Mean?

Q. I noticed a provision in my will that divides my estate “per stirpes.” What does this mean?

A. While the phrase “per stirpes” may sound complex, the concept is pretty simple.

Per stirpes comes from Latin. It means by branch or by representation. The purpose of including a per stirpes provision in your will is to designate who will inherit your assets in the event that one of the named beneficiaries dies before you do.

Here is an example to help explain. Let’s say that Adam has three children: Bob, Charles and Diane. Bob has two children, Emily and Francis. Charles has two children, George and Henry. Diane does not have children.

Adam’s will states that his estate should be divided equally among his three children. It adds that the estate should be divided in equal shares per stirpes among his descendents who are living at the time of his death. Assume the net proceeds of Adam’s estate are $6 million.

Let’s say that Adam’s son Bob predeceases him. In that case, with a per stirpes provision, Bob’s one-third share will be divided among his two children Emily and Francis.


$6 million
(father of three)


(child who is 
deceased at the time of his father’s death)



Emily and Francis

George and Henry


Emily and Francis divide Bob’s 1/3 among the two of them.
So Emily gets $1 million and Francis gets $1 million
Charles gets 1/3 or $2 million Diane gets 1/3 or $2 million

This is a simplified example. Obviously, it would get more complicated if there were more children and grandchildren and if more than one of the heirs predeceased the father.

Per stirpes is not the only option that can be listed in a will. Assets can also be distributed with other methods. You attorney can explain.

Important: If a will does not have provisions for the named beneficiaries predeceasing the testator, the default provision under state law will determine how the estate is divided.

When it comes to dividing your assets, there is no right or wrong answer as to how it should be done. It is a personal choice you can make after consulting with your attorney.