per stirpes

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Per stirpes is a Latin phrase that means “by roots” or “by branch.” This phrase often appears in the context of wills and retirement accounts to define how your assets should be passed down in the event a beneficiary passes away before you do. 

For example, if your estate is set up to be distributed “per stirpes” and a beneficiary dies, then each named, living beneficiary would receive their original portion of your estate. Any heirs of the deceased beneficiary would split that portion of the inheritance equally. Therefore, with a per stirpes designation, any amount that you leave for a beneficiary who dies before you will be passed down evenly to their heirs.

[Last updated in April of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]