On Friday I was walking a couple through the provisions of their estate planning documents and when we came across the term "per stirpes," they asked me to explain what it means. I told them that in Latin, per stirpes means "by representation," but how does this translate into the estate planning context?
The common usage in a Last Will and Testament or Revocable Living Trust is "I leave my estate to my then living descendants, per stirpes." The easiest way to explain this concept is by using a few examples. Let's assume that you have three children, Ann, Bart and Carl, and Ann has two children, Drew and Eve, and Bart and Carl have no descendants. When you die, let's assume that your Revocable Living Trust leaves all of your property to your "then living descendants, per stirpes," but Ann has predeceased you and Bob, Carl, Drew and Eve have all survived you. How will your property be divided? "Per stirpes" means that Bart and Carl will each receive a 1/3 share and Drew and Eve will take by representation the 1/3 share that their mom, Ann, would have received. Thus, Drew and Eve will each receive a 1/6 share: Ann's 1/3 share divided equally by the two children who have survived Ann = 1/6.
Same facts, except that Ann has survived you but Bart has predeceased you. In this situation, Ann and Carl will each receive a 1/2 share since Bart died and didn't have any descendants. Drew and Eve won't get anything.