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The Heritage Law Center, LLC Blog

Beneficiary Designations: The Difference Between “Per Stirpes” and “Per Capita”

POSTED ON: August 19, 2020

Whether you choose to do a Massachusetts revocable living trust or a will, you’ll be naming at least one or more beneficiaries — people entitled to receive assets from your estate. The terms “per stirpes” and “per capita” are important when there are multiple beneficiaries at the same level like children, grandchildren, siblings, etc.

Per Stirpes
When an estate is distributed per stirpes, each recipient in that particular class or group will receive an equal share. Also, when a member who is entitled to an amount that you have left predeceases you, the descendants of the deceased person will receive his share of his assets evenly.

Let’s say Sam is a single dad of two adult children: Becky and Ben. Becky has two children and Ben has one. Sam’s will leaves his estate to his descendants, per stirpes.

If Sam dies and his children are still alive, Sam’s estate would be distributed:
50% to Becky
50% to Ben

But what happens if Becky dies before Sam? Sam’s estate would be distributed:
50% to Ben
25% to Becky’s child #1
25% to Becky’s child #2

If Ben dies before Sam, Sam’s estate would be distributed:
50% to Becky
50% to Ben’s only child

Per Capita:
Per capita means all members of a particular group receive an equal share of the distribution.

Let’s say Sam’s will leaves his estate to his descendants, per capita. If Sam dies and his children are both still alive, the distribution would be:
20% to Becky
20% to Ben
20% to Becky’s child #1
20% to Becky’s child #2
20% to Ben’s only child

Massachusetts estate planning involves important decisions. Even the way you choose to distribute your assets will have long-term consequences on your descendants. As a Massachusetts estate planning law firm, we can help guide you through the estate planning process, so you make the right choices for you and your family. Call us today at (617) 299-6976 or send an email to info@maheritagelawcenter.com to schedule a confidential, no-cost consultation to discuss how we can help you.