As you create your estate plan in New York, you might come across the term “per stirpes.” Though you’ve probably not come across this term before, you should have a basic understanding of what it means as it relates to your estate plan. Terms like “per stirpes” and its cousin “per capita” can play a significant role in determining how your inheritances are distributed to your descendants. Here are the basics.
Per Stirpes Distribution
When you create an estate plan, you’ll have to decide how you want your property distributed after your death. In many situations, people choose to distribute an inheritance on a per stirpes basis. Through a per stirpes distribution, the descendants of those you grant inheritances to also stand to inherit.
We can best understand this concept by using an example. Let’s say you have two children. Each of your two children also has two children of their own. You decide to create a last will and testament in which you give each of your two children an equal share of your estate on a per stirpes basis. Once you die, each of your children will therefore inherit half of your estate.
However, the per stirpes distribution system will come into play if one of your children dies before you. So, let’s say you wrote the same last will and testament that left half of your estate each child, but one of your children died before you did and you never revised your will.
In this situation, half of your estate would pass to your surviving child, while the remaining half would pass to the descendants of the child who predeceased you. This means that the two grandchildren from your deceased child with each inherit one quarter of your estate.
Per Capita Distribution
In a per capita distribution system the descendants of predeceased children would not stand to inherit the share that would have gone to their parents. For example, using the situation outlined above in which you leave behind two children and two grandchildren, let’s say you left a will that used a per capita distribution system. With one of your children dying before you, this means that the remaining child stands to inherit your entire estate. In a per capita system, the share that would have gone to the other child does not get redistributed to that child’s descendants.
State Laws and Estate Choices
When people die without a last will and testament, state law determines whether per capita or per stirpes rules apply. However, if you choose to make an estate plan, you get to choose for yourself how you want to distribute your inheritance. If you’d like more information about the inheritance choices available to you, you should schedule an appointment to speak with your estate planning lawyer.