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How to Make a Will in Rhode Island FAQ

Creating a last will and testament is your chance to control what happens to your assets and personal belongings after your death. These FAQs answer some of the most common questions about creating a will in the state of Rhode Island.

Table of Contents

What If I Die Without a Will in Rhode Island?

When a person dies and has a will, the will determines how to distribute their property. However, if the decedent does not have a will, this is known as intestacy. In this situation, Rhode Island law determines how to distribute the estate. If there is a surviving spouse or children, they inherit. If there is a spouse or child, then next of kin, such as parents, siblings, or grandparents, inherit. If the state can’t locate your next of kin, the state receives the assets.

What Does a Will Do?

A will is a legal document that has a lot of essential provisions. In your will, you can do the following:

  • Name a personal representative, fiduciary, or executor to locate your will and assets, file the will with the probate court, and carry out your wishes through the probate process
  • Identify and gives away specific items of personal property and real estate to the family members and loved ones you select
  • Name beneficiaries who inherit your probate assets
  • Make charitable bequests to charities of your choice if you wish
  • Name guardians for minor children who act as legal guardians for them
  • Name caregivers for pets and set aside funds for their care if you wish

What Doesn’t a Will Do?

Many assets pass are transferred through a will and are called probate assets. However, some assets, known as non-probate assets, pass only according to the terms of their own legal documents. These include:

  • Annuities
  • Pensions
  • 401(k)s
  • IRAs
  • Keoghs
  • Property owned in joint tenancy with right of survivorship
  • Trusts, including living trusts and assets owned by trusts
  • Funds in payable on death or transfer on death bank accounts
  • Life insurance payments (to beneficiaries other than to the estate itself)

Making sure you have named beneficiaries on all your non-probate accounts and assets keeps them out of probate court.

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Who Can Make a Will in Rhode Island?

Rhode Island law has several requirements for the testator, which is the person making the will, including:

  • Age: The testator must be 18 years old or older.
  • Sound Mind: Rhode Island requires the testator to have a sane mind, meaning they understand they are making a will, who their natural heirs are, what property they own, and how a will distributes their property.

A testator must have a sane mind at the time they make and sign their will. Rhode Island residents with concerns about if they can make a will should consult with an estate planning attorney for legal advice.

Does Rhode Island Have a Statutory Will?

No. Rhode Island does not have a statutory will or a prescribed template you must use to create your will. You can create your own Rhode Island will or work with an estate planning attorney. Many people opt for self-help estate planning solutions to create their will customized to their needs.

What Types of Wills Does Rhode Island Accept?

Generally, most testators type or print their will and sign before witnesses. However, there are other ways to make a will that may or may not be acceptable in Rhode Island.

  • Handwritten Will: A holographic will is a will written in the testator’s handwriting and signed by them without any witnesses. This is not valid in Rhode Island, with exceptions for military service members in active service.
  • Oral Will: An oral, or nuncupative, will is entirely spoken by the testator and is not written. This type of will is not valid in Rhode Island, with exceptions for military service members in active service.
  • Electronic Will: An electronic will is a will written and stored electronically or signed, witnessed, or notarized through electronic means. Rhode Island does not accept electronic wills at this time.

These types of wills are not advisable even when accepted because they are much more likely to be subject to challenge in court.

Can I Make My Own Will in Rhode Island?

Yes. You can make your own will in Rhode Island and do not need an attorney if you have a simple estate and know your wishes. Because a will is a legal document, it’s important to create it correctly, conforming with state law. A benefit of using an online estate planning forms drafting service is that you can easily update it when you want.

How Do I Make My Will Valid in Rhode Island?

For a will to be valid in Rhode Island, your will must conform to the following requirements.

  • Signature: The testator must sign the will themselves or have another person sign it in their presence and at their direction.
  • Witnesses: Two witnesses must be present at the signing, or the testator must acknowledge that the signature is theirs to the witnesses. The witnesses must sign the will in the presence of the testator. An interested witness is one who receives a bequest in the will they witness. Under Rhode Island state laws, the will remains valid if a witness is interested, but the bequest to them is void.
  • Notary: Rhode Island does not require a notary public.
  • Self-Proving Affidavit: A self-proving affidavit is a separate document attached to the will that the witnesses sign before a notary, swearing that they witnessed the will execution. This affidavit can then be used in court in place of witness testimony when the will goes to probate.

Can I Disinherit My Spouse in Rhode Island?

You do not have to include your spouse in your will, but if you do not, a surviving spouse may claim an elective share of your estate. An elective share is part of a decedent’s estate assets that a spouse may claim if left out of the will.

Can I Disinherit My Children in Rhode Island?

You do not have to leave an inheritance to any child, but there are some rules to know. If you create a will and a child is born or adopted afterward, they may receive the same amount they would have received if you died without a will. The only exception to this is if the omission was intentional. Therefore, if you wish to leave a current or future child out of your will, it’s always best to explicitly say so in the will.

What Estate Planning Documents Should I Have in Rhode Island?

In addition to your will, here are other estate planning documents to help you and your family during your lifetime, such as:

  • Power of Attorney. This document names a person who has the authority to handle financial matters for you if you are unable to do.
  • Health Care Directive. You have the right to name someone who can make medical decisions for you if you are unable to do so. This document is called a durable power of attorney for health care. You can also create a living will, sometimes called an advance directive, which states your wishes for life-prolonging treatment and end-of-life care.

Fortunately, making a valid will and creating other Rhode Island estate planning documents is easy with online estate planning templates.

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Written by:

Brette Sember, J.D.

Contributing Author

Reviewed by:

Catherine Hodder, Esq.

Senior Legal Writer