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[Latin, By the heads or polls.] A term used in the Descent and Distribution of the estate of one who dies without a will. It means to share and share alike according to the number of individuals.
In a per capita distribution, an equal share of an estate is given to each heir, all of whom stand in equal degree of relationship from a decedent. For example, a woman died intestate, that is, without a will. Her husband and three children predeceased her, and her only living heirs are her ten grandchildren. These grandchildren will take per capita. In other words, each grandchild will receive one-tenth of the estate.
Per capita differs from per stirpes, where persons do not inherit in their individual capacity but take as part of a group represented by a deceased ancestor closer in line to the decedent.
adj. Latin for "by head," meaning to be determined by the number of people. To find the per capita cost, the total number of persons are added up and the bill, tax or benefits are divided equally among those persons.
per capita‘by head’, one of two common methods of division of a fund, usually an estate. Per capita is division by head. Everyone gets an equal share, no matter how close or distant the relationship. Per stirpes is ‘division by branch’ - each branch of the family gets the same. For example, Robert has two sons, William and Edward. William's sons are Tom and David. Edward's sons are Mike and Harry. If William dies and then Robert dies, then the estate would per capita be divided equally between Tom, David and Edward, each getting one third (Mike and Harry being excluded by their living father, Edward). If the division is per stirpes, then the William branch and the Edward branch get half each. Edward is alive and gets his half, whereas on this model Tom and David take a per capita division of the amount allocated to the stirpes, i.e. one quarter of the estate.
PER CAPITA, by the head or polls. This term is applied when an estate is to be divided share and share alike. For example, if a legacy be given to the issue of A B, and A B at the time of his death, shall have two children and two grandchildren, his estate shall be divided into four parts, and the children and grandchildren shall each have one of them. 3 Ves. 257; 13 Ves. 344. Vide 1 Rop. on Leg. 126, 130.