The Meaning of Common Will Terms — Per Stirpes and Per Capita
Last year, Fox News reported that actor Alan Alda is urging scientists to stop using jargon and use simple language instead. But the use of seemingly arcane language often has a purpose. Certain words have specific well-defined meanings and their use can help reduce the risk of confusion and misunderstanding. Two such examples are the terms per stirpes and per capita that are often found in wills, as well as in Pennsylvania’s probate code.
The meaning of these terms can be illustrated by means of two simple scenarios:
Scenario 1: You have three children — Sam, Jane and Peter. Jill and Peter are alive when you die but Jack predeceases you, leaving two surviving children of his own.
Scenario 2: You have three children — Sam, Jane and Peter. All three children predecease you. Sam has one surviving child, Jane has two children and Peter has three.
This means “by stocks or root.” Each heir takes the place of his or her deceased parent. In Scenario 1, if you left your estate to your living descendants per stirpes Jane and Peter would inherit one third each and Sam’s two children would inherit one sixth each — they inherit Sam’s one third equally. In Scenario 2, Sam’s child would inherit a third, Jane’s two children would inherit one sixth each (half of Jane’s third) and Peter’s three children would inherit one ninth each (one third of Peter’s third).
This means “per head.” All members of a class receive an equal share. In Scenario 1, if you left your estate to all your living descendants per capita, Jane and Peter as well as Sam’s two children would get a quarter each. They are all your descendants, so they all get an equal share. In Scenario 2, each grandchild would get a sixth — again all six are your descendants and they all get an equal shares.
Careful will drafting is important. A poorly drafted will can lead to will contests and family rifts. An experienced Pittsburgh wills attorney can help you ensure your will is properly drafted and accurately reflects your wishes. Contact us at Fingeret Law to arrange a consultation.