What Does “Per Stirpes” Mean?

Bell Tower, Frederick, MD

Bell Tower, Frederick, MD

You may have been confused by the phrase “per stirpes” before in a will. Here’s a quick rundown on what it means in Maryland.

Per stirpes (pronounced “purr stir-peas”) literally means “by the stocks” or “by the roots.” It is used when a beneficiary’s children inherits their parent’s share if the beneficiary is no longer living. It’s best understood through some examples.

Example 1: Wilson leaves $100,000 to his children, Diane and Bryce, per stirpes. Diane has one daughter, Elena, and Bryce has two children, Sam and Kaitlyn. If Bryce dies before Wilson does, Bryce’s children would inherit his share. Diane would get $50,000 and Sam and Kaitlyn would split Bryce’s share, each getting $25,000.

Example 2: Same as above, but Diane and Bryce have both passed away before Wilson. Elena would inherit Diane’s share and Sam and Kaitlyn would inherit Bryce’s share. This means Elena would inherit $50,000 and Sam and Kaitlyn would each inherit $25,000.

Example 3: If Diane dies before Wilson without any living children, Bryce would inherit the whole $100,000. If Diane and Bryce both are dead when Wilson dies and only Bryce has living children, they would split the $100,000.

Under Maryland law, a per stirpes distribution is the default preference unless there is a contrary intention in the will. An alternative option is called a per capita distribution. Under a per capita distribution the total number of people entitled to share receive an equal distribution.

Example 4. Wilson leaves $100,000 to his children, Diane and Bryce, per capita. Diane and Bryce are no longer living but Diane’s daughter Elena, and Bryce’s children Sam and Kaitlyn are still living. Under a per capita distribution, Elena, Sam and Kaityln would each split the $100,000 equally, each receiving $33,333.33. Compare to the per stirpes result to Example 2 above.

Although per stirpes is the default rule, many clients prefer the per capita distribution when it is explained to them. Many lawyers will use language that makes clear what the client intends rather than rely on an archaic phrase. When you talk to an estate planning attorney about drawing up your will, make sure you understand what your options.

Montefusco Estate Planning, LLC is an estate planning law firm in Frederick, MD. If you are interested in our services, contact us today. This information is written for the context of Maryland estate planning but is not legal advice for anyone. For more information, read our disclaimer.

Montefusco Estate Planning, LLC
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