Understanding how assets are distributed in a will

When creating an estate plan, the main decision is how your assets will be distributed after you pass away. The terms “per stirpes” and “per capita” become important when your descendants include children and grandchildren. In a will, these terms are often written as “I leave my [fill in the blank] to my descendants, per stirpes (or per capita).”

Per stirpes
Distributing your assets per stirpes (sometimes called “by right of representation”) means that your assets will be divided evenly among your children, but if one of your children predeceases you, their children (your grandchildren) will inherit their parent’s share.

Generally, the terms per stirpes and “by right of representation” are used interchangeably. However, a variation on “right of representation” is used in some states if two or more children predecease you.

Per capita
When you distribute your assets per capita and a child predeceases you, your living children and grandchildren will inherit equally.

These terms can make a big difference in how an estate is distributed, and states have differences in how they interpret the terms. Make sure your property is being distributed the way that you want by consulting with your attorney.

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