Differences Between Per Capita and Per Stripes

Differences Between Per Capita and Per Stripes

The law of wills and succession is a complex area that governs the distribution of a deceased person's assets among their heirs. Two key principles that play a significant role in this process are per capita and per stirpes. These Latin terms may sound intimidating, but they are crucial for understanding how an estate is distributed among surviving beneficiaries. In this article, we will explore the differences between per capita and per stirpes and their implications in the context of wills and succession.

Per Capita Distribution
Per capita, which translates to "by the head" in Latin, is a distribution method that treats each individual beneficiary equally, regardless of their relationship to the deceased. In the context of wills and succession, this means that each person in the same generation receives an equal share of the estate. If one of the beneficiaries in a generation predeceases the testator (the person making the will), their share is distributed among the surviving beneficiaries in that generation. For example, if a testator has three children and one predeceases them, the estate would be divided equally among the two surviving children, with no consideration for the deceased child's descendants.

Per Stirpes Distribution
On the other hand, per stirpes, meaning "by the roots" in Latin, takes into account the family line or branch of the deceased beneficiary. This method considers the generational representation when distributing the estate. If a beneficiary predeceases the testator, their share is passed down to their descendants. Using the same example as before, if a testator has three children, and one predeceases them leaving two grandchildren, the estate would be divided into equal shares among the three children. However, if a child predeceases and leaves no surviving children, their share is redistributed equally among the surviving siblings and their descendants.

Choosing Between Per Capita and Per Stirpes
The choice between per capita and per stirpes distribution often depends on the testator's intentions and the family dynamics. Testators should carefully consider the family structure, the relationships among beneficiaries, and their preferences for asset distribution. Commonly, per capita distribution is used when the testator wants a straightforward, equal division among the living beneficiaries, without consideration for family branches or lines. On the other hand, per stirpes distribution is preferred when the testator wants to ensure that the descendants of a deceased beneficiary receive a share, preserving the family line and preventing unintended consequences, especially in larger and more complex family structures.

Understanding the differences between per capita and per stirpes is crucial when creating a will or navigating the complexities of succession laws. While both distribution methods aim to achieve fairness, the choice between them can have significant implications for how an estate is distributed among the heirs. Testators should seek legal advice to ensure that their intentions are accurately reflected in their wills, taking into account family relationships and dynamics to avoid any potential disputes or challenges in the future.
Back to blog
UOL Case Bank

UOL Case Bank

Upon joining, you become a valuable UOL student and gain instant access to over 2,100 case summaries. UOL Case Bank is constantly expanding. Speed up your revision with us now.

Subscribe Now

Where are our students from?

Yale University
Council of Europe
Baker Mckenzie 
University of Chicago
Columbia University
New York University
University of Michigan 
University College London (UCL)
London School of Economics (LSE)
King’s College London (KCL)
University of London
University of Manchester
University of Zurich
University of York
Brandeis University
University of Exeter
University of Sheffield
Boston University
University of Washington
University of Leeds
University of Law
Royal Holloway, University of London 
Birkbeck, University of London
SOAS, University of London
University of Kent
University of Hull
Queen’s University Belfast
Toronto Metropolitan University
Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
University of Buckingham

  • Criminal Practice

    Diagrams and Charts

    Our carefully designed diagrams and charts will guide you through complex legal issues.

  • Criminal Law

    Clear and Succinct Definitions

    Key concepts are concisely defined to help you understand legal topics quickly.

  • Property Law

    Statutory Provisions

    Statutory provisions are provided side by side with legal concepts to help you swiftly locate the relevant legislation.

  • Public Law

    Case Summaries

    We have summarised important cases for you so that you don't need to read long and boring cases.

  • Evidence

    Rules and Exceptions

    Rules and exceptions are clearly listed so that you know when a rule applies and when it doesn't.

  • Company Law


    Legal terms and key concepts are explained at the beginning of each chapter to help you learn efficiently.

  • Case Law

    Case law is provided side by side with legal concepts so that you know how legal principles and precedents were established.

  • Law Exam Guide

    Law Essay Guide

    You will learn essential law exam skills and essay writing techniques that are not taught in class.

  • Law Exam Guide

    Problem Question Guide

    We will show you how to answer problem questions step by step to achieve first-class results.

  • Conflict of Laws

    Structured Explanations

    Complex legal concepts are broken down into concise and digestible bullet point explanations.

  • Legal System and Method

    Legal Research

    You will learn legal research techniques with our study guide and become a proficient legal researcher.

  • Jurisprudence and Legal Theory


    All essential concepts, principles, and case law are included so that you can answer exam questions quickly.