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Per stirpes is a legal term used in inheritance law to indicate that proceeds of an estate should be distributed equally to the immediate living branches of the deceased's family. This is a common stipulation in inheritance when people want their children and the heirs of their children to inherit equally. One advantage of a per stirpes clause is that it does not need to be adjusted as the living branches of the family fluctuate.
In a simple example of per stirpes inheritance, if John has three children — Peter, Mary, and George — each of the three children will inherit one third of John's estate when he dies. If any of them have children, their children will inherit nothing, as long as their parents are still living. If Mary dies before John, leaving two children behind, the third of the estate that would have gone to her will be divided equally between her children. Theoretically, if one of her children in turn had children and died before John, that child's portion of the inheritance would then be divided equally.
In per stirpes inheritance, everyone inherits equally. People may wish to distribute their estates equally for any number of reasons. People fearing conflict over a will may choose equal distribution, as it can be more difficult to contest in court. People will not be able to claim that they were discriminated against in the will because everyone got an equal share of the estate. Distribution of the estate is also greatly simplified with the use of a per stirpes inheritance.
There are a number of different ways to structure an inheritance. When planning a will, people may want to discuss their options with an estate planner to make sure the will is written and will be executed in the way they intend. Speaking with someone about being an executor ahead of time and expressing explicit wishes to this person can also be beneficial.
In order to distribute the inheritance, a number of steps must be followed. An executor must be appointed to handle the estate, and the executor generates a complete catalog of the contents of the estate and their value. The estate is liquidated to allow everyone to receive an equal share, unless the will is more specific; for example, people may own equal shares in a family home without needing to sell it, and they may be given the option to buy each other out at some point in the future.