What Is the Definition of the Legal Term Per Stirpes?

Per stirpes is a legal term for the system of determining descendants of a deceased person to distribute an estate, wherein shares are defined by generational class, states the Legal Information Institute. It is used to determine the proportionate shares descendants receive from an estate that has no will.

A per stirpes method determines what happens to the estate of a person who dies without a will after the spouse receives her statutory share, as described by the Legal Information Institute. The remaining estate is divided into shares by the number of children of the deceased. If one of the children died prior to the decedent and that child had surviving children, then that child's share is divided among those grandchildren. If a deceased child had no children, that child's share is disregarded.

If there are no surviving children, then under pure per stirpes, the number of primary shares of the estate is still divided by the number of children, reports the Legal Information Institute. Under the modified per stirpes system, the number of primary shares is instead determined by the number in the next class with at least one surviving member, likely grandchildren.