If you die without a will in Rhode Island, your assets will go to your closest relatives under state "intestate succession" laws. Here are some details about how intestate succession works in Rhode Island.
Only assets that pass through probate are affected by intestate succession laws. Many valuable assets don't go through probate, and therefore aren't affected by intestate succession laws. Here are some examples:
These assets will pass to the surviving co-owner or to the beneficiary you named, whether or not you have a will. However, if you don't have a will and none of the named beneficiaries are alive to take the property, then the property could end up being transferred according to intestate succession.
Under intestate succession, who gets what depends on whether or not you have living children, parents, or other close relatives when you die. Here's a quick overview:
If you die with:
here's what happens:
|children but no spouse
|children inherit everything
|spouse and parents but no descendants
|real estate: spouse inherits up to $150,000 worth of your intestate real estate, plus the right to use the rest of it for life
personal property: spouse inherits $50,000 worth of intestate personal property, plus 1/2 of the balance
parents inherit everything else
|spouse and descendants
|Spouse has the right to use your intestate real estate for life and inherits 1/2 of your intestate personal property outright
descendants inherit everything else
|parents but no spouse or descendants
|parents inherit everything
|siblings but no spouse, descendants, or parents
|siblings inherit everything
In Rhode Island, if you are married and you die without a will, what your spouse gets depends on whether or not you have living descendants—children, grandchildren, or great grandchildren.
If you die without children or other descendants. Your spouse can petition the probate court to inherit up to $150,000 of your intestate real estate outright; otherwise, he or she is entitled to only a life estate -- that is, the right to use the real estate for life but not to sell it or give it away. Your spouse also inherits $50,000 worth of your personal property, plus 1/2 of the balance. (R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 33-1-5; 33-1-6; 33-1-10 (2024).)
If you die with children or other descendants. Your spouse has the right to use your intestate real estate for life and inherits 1/2 of your intestate personal property outright. (R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 33-1-5; 33-1-10 (2024).)
Example: Gerry is married to Joe, and the couple has two children. Gerry owns a house in joint tenancy with Joe, and Joe is also the named beneficiary of Gerry's retirement account. When Gerry dies, Joe automatically inherits the house and any remaining retirement funds; those things are not intestate property. Gerry also has $200,000 worth of additional property that would have passed under a will, if she had made one. Joe inherits $100,000 worth of that property. The two children inherit $50,000 each.
If you die without a will in Rhode Island, your children will receive an "intestate share" of your property. The size of each child's share depends on how many children you have and whether or not you are married. (See the table above.)
For children to inherit from you under the laws of intestacy, the state of Rhode Island must consider them your children, legally. For many families, this is not a confusing issue. But it's not always clear. Here are some things to keep in mind.
This can be a tricky area of the law, so if you have questions about your relationship to your parent or child, get help from an experienced attorney.
However, this very rarely happens because the laws are designed to get your property to anyone who was even remotely related to you. For example, your property won't go to the state if you leave a spouse, children, siblings, parents, grandparents, great grandparents, aunts or uncles, great uncles or aunts, nieces or nephews, cousins of any degree, or the children, parents, or siblings of a spouse who dies before you do.
Here are a few other things to know about Rhode Island's intestacy laws.
To learn more about intestate succession, read How an Estate Is Settled If There's No Will.
You can find Rhode Island's intestate succession laws here: Rhode Island General Laws § § 33-1-1 to 33-1-11.
For more about estate planning, go to the Wills, Trusts & Probate section of Nolo.com.