Per What?! Making Sense of Beneficiary Designations
“Per Stirpes,” “Per Capita to Children,” and “Per Capita to Heirs”- in this article we explain beneficiary designations, with examples of each.
“Per Stirpes,” “Per Capita to Children,” and “Per Capita to Heirs” – Small words with big meanings. Probate is often a challenging and confusing process. Sometimes, beneficiaries designated in a will can “pre-decease,” or die before, the person who wrote the will. What happens to the portion of the estate that would have gone to the pre-deceased person, if they had survived the writer of the will, depends upon specific language used in the will– the small words with big meanings.
Understanding Per Stirpes and Per Capita Beneficiary Designations
Stirpes is a Latin term meaning “by roots,” and Capita is a Latin term meaning “by the head.”
Consider the three examples below. This this scenario, a widower named Todd has designated his four children, Sarah, Jared, Zachary, and Rodger as equal heirs to his estate. However, after the time the will was written, and before Todd died, his son Roger passed away. Rodger had two children, Rachel and Sam who are both living.
Per Stirpes – the pre-deceasesed beneficiary’s portion would be divided between his/her surviving children.
Per Capita to Heirs – All heirs would receive an equal amount regardless of their generation.
Per Capita to Children – All surviving children, not grandchildren or other descendants, would share the estate equally.
How do we establish who the rightful beneficiaries of an estate are?
Sometimes, the estate will need the help of forensic genealogical services. Perhaps Roger has been estranged from the family since early adulthood and his siblings do not know if he is alive or if he has children. The estrangement does not exclude Roger or Roger’s descendants to their rights as heirs.
Perhaps Todd’s sister Betty was to receive 50% of the estate, and the remainder divided by Todd’s children, per stirpes. Betty pre-deceased, as did two of her children; but, Sarah, Jared, and Zachary do not know the identities of their aunt Betty’s children and grandchildren. (View our chart explaining extended family relationships in our article, Third Cousins Twice Removed and Consanguinity: Figuring Out How You’re Related to Your Relatives.)
In such complex situations, estate administrators and legal professionals rely upon the help of professional forensic genealogists. It is important to note that forensic genealogists are not involved in the legal process of adjudicating which family members will actually become beneficiaries and receive an inheritance from the estate–those matters are up to the court to decide. The statutes that govern these decisions also differ from state to state. Check out our quick guide, Intestate Succession Statutes by State for more information.
What do forensic genealogists do?
Our job as forensic genealogists is to provide evidence of “kinship,” meaning evidence which proves who the family members are/were and whether they are living or deceased according to per stirpes, per capita to heirs, or per capita to children. This is done by gathering documents which will be used as evidence and providing a comprehensive report explaining the findings.
Our unbiased findings and evidence exhibits that will be used in court settings are presented in the form of a notarized sworn affidavit called an Affidavit of Diligent Search for Kinship. The affidavits can also be apostilled for use in courts outside of the United States.
As a probate research firm, our forensic genealogists are experienced at providing expert genealogical research, analysis and reporting for legal proceedings involving kinship. Contact us today for a free quote!