After I ask clients if they have reviewed drafts of their wills, the question they most often ask me is “what does per stirpes mean?”  It helps that the term is underlined. In short, it means by representation.  If a beneficiary dies before the decedent, that beneficiary’s heirs will divide his or her share.A recent Nebraska case, Estate of Evans, recently interpreted per stirpes in the context of an individual who died without a will and was survived by a nephew from a pre-deceased brother and 2 nieces from another pre-deceased brother. The court held that the 3 individuals would share equally because the division into shares began at the generation with living heirs.

Several points:

1.  In Ohio, the division would be made at the level of the pre-deceased brothers so the nephew would receive half and the nieces would each receive one quarter.

2.  A common fallacy among non-attorneys is that if an individual does not have a will, the assets will escheat to the state.  States have statutes that provide who will inherit assets if there is no will.  Only if there is no one somewhat directly related to the decedent will the assets escheat to the estate.
3.  It is always better to prepare a will to determine who inherits assets rather than leave the distribution to a state statute.

4.  It is rare to be able to use the term escheat twice in the same post.