Lawyers have become better at writing in plain English since I began to practice law in the Middle Ages. However, we could all do a better job at explaining certain things. One of the reasons that lawyers write in a certain way is to make sure that the point they are making is completely understood and not subject to interpretation. That’s why lawyers will occasionally use obscure Latin phrases. The other day I prepared a will for a client and she asked what the phrase per stirpes meant; a perfectly valid question.
Per Stirpes is legalese. It technically means a method of dividing up a share of an estate to a group or class of distributees, who take the share that a deceased person would otherwise have been entitled to. In other words, if you intend a share of your estate to go to your brother and he predeceases you AND you want the share that he would have received to go to his children, this is how you achieve that.
However, although there is an important reason to use this term in the document itself, it is equally important to make sure that the client understands what it means.
Next week we’ll discuss nunc pro tunc.