A last will and testament is an important step in planning the distribution of your estate (real and personal property) upon your death. Rhode Island wills permit the testator, the person writing the will, to provide for a spouse, children, other loved ones, and pets after his death as well as to name a personal representative for the estate.
Not to be confused with a will, a Rhode Island living will provides instructions should you become incapacitated and incapable of making decisions regarding your medical care.
Do You Need a Last Will and Testament?
Although a last will and testament is not legally required, without a will, state laws (called laws of intestacy) determine the distribution of an estate's assets. Because the outcome may not coincide with the decedent's (person who has passed away) wishes, it is generally advisable to create a last will and testament.
In addition to providing the opportunity to direct asset distribution, a Rhode Island last will and testament also allows the testator to make a charitable gift, create a trust for any person, name a legal guardian for minor children, or create a “pet trust” in order to provide for the care of an animal after its owner’s death.
Before the terms of a will can be accepted, the will must be proven in probate court. Probate is the court-supervised process of distributing the estate of a deceased person.
In Rhode Island, a decedent’s will should be filed in the probate court of the town or city in which the decedent had resided. Once the will is proven, the executor (person overseeing the will) can proceed to wrap up the estate, which includes collecting and protecting property, paying off debts, and then distributing assets.
A simplified probate procedure for estates valued at $10,000 or less is available in Rhode Island.
Intestacy: Dying Without a Will
Someone who dies without a will is called “intestate,” which invokes the strict laws of intestacy. In Rhode Island in the absence of a will, a surviving spouse inherits up to $75,000 of intestate real estate and the right to use the rest for life as well as $50,000 of intestate personal property plus half the balance. If the couple shares descendants, the spouse inherits half of the intestate property plus the right to use intestate real estate for life.
If there is no surviving spouse, descendants, or parents, other relatives, including siblings and grandparents, will inherit depending on the closeness of the relation.
Exceptions to Ability to Distribute Property
Not all property can be distributed according to a will. Some exceptions in Rhode Island include the following:
- Property owned in joint tenancy with right of survivorship
- Community property (half passes to spouse)
- Share to surviving spouse if omitted from will, unless it appears from either the will or other evidence that omission was intentional
- Share to surviving child if omitted from the will, unless it appears from either the will or other evidence that omission was intentional
Form a Last Will in Rhode Island
The basic requirements for a Rhode Island last will and testament include the following:
- Age: The testator must be at least 18 years old.
- Capacity: The testator must be of “sane mind.”
- Signature: The will must be signed by the testator or by someone else in the testator’s name in his presence, by his express direction.
- Witnesses: A Rhode Island will must be signed by at least two individuals present at the same time who subscribe to the will in the presence of the testator.
- Writing: A Rhode Island will must be in writing.
- Beneficiaries: A testator can leave property to anyone.
Changing a Rhode Island Last Will and Testament
A Rhode Island will may be changed at any time by codicil, which must be executed in the same way as a will.
Revoking a Rhode Island Last Will and Testament
The revocation of a Rhode Island will can be accomplished in the following ways:
- By another will;
- By some other writing declaring the intention to revoke the will; or
- By “burning, tearing, or otherwise destroying the will” done by either the testator or by someone else at his direction in his conscious presence with the intention of revoking the will.
If a testator gets married after executing a will, that will is revoked unless the will provides otherwise. If a testator gets divorced after executing a will, certain provisions in favor of the ex-spouse are revoked.
If you are ready to make a last will of your own, LegalZoom can help you get started in three easy steps. LegalZoom also offers other legal products to help you prepare for the future, such as a living will and power of attorney.