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Rhode Island Probate and Estate Tax Laws

The probate process is the legal procedure by which property is transferred after a person dies. During this process, the deceased's property is gathered together into an estate, all applicable taxes and debts are paid, and the remaining estate is distributed to the deceased's heirs.

If the deceased dies testate (with a valid will) then the estate will pass according to the terms of the will. However, any part of the deceased's estate that isn't effectively disposed of by will, or the entire estate if the deceased dies intestate (without a valid will), passes according to the Rhode Island intestate succession laws.

Under Rhode Island's intestate succession laws, what the deceased's surviving spouse inherits depends on whether or not the deceased dies with surviving descendants (children, grand children, or great grandchildren).

  • If deceased dies without surviving descendants: The surviving spouse can petition to inherit up to $75,000 of the intestate real estate, or else the spouse receives a life estate (the right to use the real estate for life). The spouse also inherits $50,000 worth of the deceased's personal property, and half of the remaining personal property.
  • If deceased dies with surviving descendants: The surviving spouse receives a life estate in the deceased's real estate (the right to use the real estate for life), and inherits half of the deceased's personal property.

The remaining intestate estate passes according to the intestate succession outlined in the table below.

Code Section

Rhode Island Code section 33-1-1 & 33-1-2: Intestate Succession

Order of Inheritance


Whenever a person dies intestate, their estate passes in equal portions to his or her kindred in the following order:
  • First, to the deceased's children or their descendants, if there are any
  • Second, if the deceased doesn't have children or their descendants, then to the deceased's surviving parents in equal shares
  • Third, if the deceased doesn't have a surviving parent, then to the deceased's brothers and sisters, and their descendants
  • Fourth, if the deceased doesn't have a surviving brother or sister or their descendants, to the deceased's surviving grandparents
  • Fifth, if the deceased doesn't have a surviving grandparent, to the deceased's surviving uncles and aunts, or their descendants by representation
  • Sixth, if the deceased doesn't have a surviving uncle or aunt or their descendent, to the deceased's surviving great grandparents, and
  • Seventh, if the deceased doesn't have a surviving great grandparent, then to the deceased's great uncles and great aunts, or to their descendants by representation, and so on passing to the nearest lineal ancestor

What if the Deceased Doesn't Have Surviving Kin?


If the deceased dies without paternal or maternal kindred, then the estate passes to the deceased's surviving spouse, or if the spouse didn't survive, then the estate passes to the spouses' kindred as if he or she had survived the deceased.

As a last resort, the estate will pass to the State of Rhode Island.

Property that Passes Outside of Probate

It is important to note that not all property passes through probate. For example, the assets listed below have named beneficiaries and therefore pass outside of the probate process:

  • Living trusts
  • Life insurance proceeds
  • Payable-on-death bank accounts
  • Jointly owned property, and
  • Retirement accounts

Estate Tax

An estate tax is a tax on the right to transfer property at death. While not all states collect an estate tax, Rhode Island currently does. This tax is only applied to large estates owned by Rhode Island residents or nonresidents who own real property or tangible personal property in Rhode Island. But what constitutes a large estate? Currently, the estate tax is imposed on the estates of decedents who die on or after January 1st, 2015 with a net taxable estate of $1,500,000 or more.

In other words, the estate tax exemption in Rhode Island is currently $1,500,000, and the estate is only taxed on the amount by which it exceeds the exemption. However, under certain circumstances Rhode Island's estate tax won't apply no matter how large the deceased's estate is. For example, outright transfers to the deceased's surviving spouse aren't subject to the estate tax.

For information about the federal estate tax visit the IRS' website.

Additional Resources

State laws change frequently. For case specific information regarding Rhode Island's probate and estate tax laws contact a local tax attorney.

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