[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.