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What Do the Words “Per Stirpes” Mean in a Florida Will or Trust?


If you read through a Will or Trust, you may see the Latin term “per stirpes” used when describing a beneficiary’s share. So what does this mean? Is it just an antiquated phrase used by probate lawyers? And is it something you need to think about as a potential beneficiary?

By the Branch

The literal English translation of per stirpes is “by the branch.” It basically means that when property is distributed to multiple descendants, each descendant represents a separate “branch” of the entire inheritance. That is to say, each descendant receives an equal share under the Will or Trust, and if that descendant is dead, their share is then equally distributed between all of their descendants.

If this sounds confusing, let’s take a simple hypothetical case. Josephine is a widow with three adult children: Albert, Francine, and Kelly. Josephine’s Will states that upon her death, her entire probate Estate will be divided into equal shares and distributed to the children per stirpes.

If all of Josephine’s children outlive her, then each child receives one-third of the estate. But let’s say Albert died before his mother, leaving behind two children of his own. Under the per stirpes stipulation in Josephine’s Will, the one-third share that would have gone to Albert will now be equally divided among his two children. In other words, Albert’s children each receive a one-sixth share of their grandmother’s Estate, while Francine and Kelly still receive their respective one-third shares.

Per Stirpes vs. Per Capita

Occasionally a Will or Trust specifies distribution on a per capita rather than a per stirpes basis. Translated from the Latin, per capita means “by the head.” Unlike a per stirpes distribution, in a per capita distribution all living descendants receive the same equal share of the Trust or Estate.

So let’s say Josephine had a Will with a per capita distribution. Let’s also go with the assumption that Albert died and left two surviving children. Under the per capita rule, the Estate is divided into four shares–one for each of the two surviving children and one for each of Albert’s children. Basically, with per capita you never create a share for an already deceased beneficiary. But this also means that the shares of the still-living children are reduced to account for the grandchildren who survive a deceased child.

Speak with a Florida Probate and Trust Lawyer Today

If you have questions about the per stirpes rule and how it may apply to a Trust or Estate that you have an interest in, contact the Pompano Beach estate and trust litigation attorneys at the offices of Mark R. Manceri, P.A., to schedule a consultation today.

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