Andrew explains what is meant by the “per stirpes” rule in the context of wills.
Wills or trusts sometimes contain a division among people “per stirpes”.
“Per stirpes” is latin for “by root” and it is an alternative to “per capita” which means “by head”.
A per capita distribution, such as “one million pounds to those of my grandchildren who survive me in equal shares per capita” where the person making the gift had eight surviving grandchildren, would simply be divided eight ways, and each of them would get £125,000.
A per stirpes distribution, such as “to those of my descendants who survive me in equal shares per stirpes”, however, travels down the family tree in lines. So if that phrase was in Albert’s will, and just before his death his family tree looked like this:
then Catherine and Daniel would each take one third. Edwin has died but his line is entitled to a third. Florence takes half of her late father’s third – that is, one sixth of the total. And Greg has also died but his line is entitled to the same amount as his sister, so his two children, Harriet and Ian, take half of that amount each, namely one twelfth of the total.
The amounts received are unequal, but many people think this distribution is fairer. That is because, if the order of death had been in the order of age, and taking Harriet as our example, she would ultimately have received a twelfth of her great-grandfather’s (Albert’s) estate anyway – he would have left a third of his estate to each of his three children, then Edwin would have left half of his share of that (a sixth of the total) to each of his two children, then Greg would have left half of his share of that (a twelfth of the total) to each of his children, including Harriet.
That is why per stirpes distributions are so widely used.