During the writing of a will, I read that I could leave my property to my children “per stripes.” Why is the law talking about us like weâ€™re some kind of zebra? The phrase is Latin and it is â€œper stirpes,â€ not â€œper stripes.â€ Some bits of property law are extremely ancient in origin and this is one of them. Most people want their property to pass to their children, but they donâ€™t consider a situation few of us care to think about. What should happen to our property if our children die before us?
If a child has died before the parent who leaves property through a will or trust, and that deceased child has passed without leaving any children, many would say that the property should be divided among the remaining children. That situation is pretty straightforward. Suppose that you had three children, and your will said to distribute the property to your children in equal shares â€œper stirpes.â€ Then one of your children died without children of their own. The â€œper stirpesâ€ designation in your will would mean that your surviving children would split your property into two equal shares.
The complication comes, though, when one child has died leaving his or her own children. Letâ€™s call those children â€œgrandchildren.â€ Would you, as the parent leaving the property, want those â€œgrandchildrenâ€ to split the share you had intended for your now-deceased child?
That would be the simplest solution and that is what â€œper stirpesâ€ would do. If you had three children, and one died leaving two â€œgrandchildren,â€ your will would direct that your two surviving children would get one-third each, and the surviving â€œgrandchildrenâ€ would get one-sixth each. That is distribution â€œper stirpes.â€ The phrase means â€œby the branch.â€
The problem there, though, is that from the grandchildrenâ€™s point of view, they get less than the other grandchildren. There are a couple of other options we can discuss with you. Or, you can do as most people do, opt for â€œper stirpes,â€ and leave it at that.
Zebras have nothing to do with it.
We hope you found this article helpful. If you have questions or would like to discuss a personal legal matter, donâ€™t hesitate to reach out. ContactÂ our Louisville, KY office by calling (502) 631-1488.