Making a Will in Rhode Island

How to make a will in Rhode Island and what can happen if you don't.

By , Attorney (University of Arkansas School of Law)

Steps to Create a Will in Rhode Island.

Here's a quick checklist for making a will in Rhode Island:

  1. Decide what property to include in your will.
  2. Decide who will inherit your property.
  3. Choose an executor to handle your estate.
  4. Choose a guardian for your children.
  5. Choose someone to manage children's property.
  6. Make your will.
  7. Sign your will in front of witnesses.
  8. Store your will safely.

Why Should I Make a Rhode Island Will?

A will, also called a "last will and testament," can help you protect your family and your property. You can use a will to:

  • leave your property to people or organizations
  • name a personal guardian to care for your minor children
  • name a trusted person to manage property you leave to minor children, and
  • name an executor, the person who makes sure that the terms of your will are carried out.

What Happens if I Don't Have a Will?

In Rhode Island, if you die without a will, your property will be distributed according to state "intestacy" laws. Rhode Island's intestacy law gives your property to your closest relatives, beginning with your spouse and children. If you have neither a spouse nor children, your grandchildren or your parents will get your property. This list continues with increasingly distant relatives, including siblings, grandparents, great grandparents, aunts or uncles, great aunts or uncles, nieces or nephews, cousins of any degree, or the children, parents, or siblings of a spouse who dies before you do. If the court exhausts this list to find that you have no living relatives by blood or marriage, the state will take your property.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Make a Will in Rhode Island?

No. You can make your own will in Rhode Island, using Nolo's Quicken WillMaker & Trust. However, you may want to consult a lawyer in some situations. For example, if you think that your will might be contested or you have especially complicated goals, you should talk with an attorney. See Do I Need an Attorney to Make My Estate Plan?

What Are the Requirements for Making a Will in Rhode Island?

To make a will in Rhode Island, you must be:

Your will can dispose of your real and personal property, as well as any property you acquire after making your will. Rhode Island General Laws § 33-5-2.

You must make your will on hard copy. That is, it must be on actual paper. It cannot be on an audio, video, or any other digital file. (Although, see "Can I Make a Digital or Electronic Will?," below.) Type and print your will using a computer, or you can use a typewriter.

How Do I Sign My Rhode Island Will?

To finalize your will in Rhode Island:

Do I Need to Have My Will Notarized?

No, in Rhode Island, you do not need to notarize your will to make it legal.

However, Rhode Island allows you to make your will "self-proving" and you'll need to go to a notary if you want to do that. A self-proving will speeds up probate because the court can accept the will without contacting the witnesses who signed it.

To make your will self-proving, you and your witnesses will go to the notary and sign an affidavit that states who you are and that each of you knew you were signing the will. Rhode Island General Laws § 33-7-26.

Should My Will Name an Executor?

Yes. In Rhode Island, you can use your will to name an executor who will ensure that the provisions in your will are carried out after your death. Nolo's Quicken WillMaker produces a letter to your executor that generally explains what the job requires. If you don't name an executor, the probate court will appoint someone to take on the job of winding up your estate.

Can I Revoke or Change My Will?

In Rhode Island, you may revoke or change your will at any time. You can revoke your will by:

  • burning, tearing, or destroying your will with the intent to revoke it
  • ordering someone else to burn, tear, or destroy your will in front of you
  • making a new will that revokes your old one, or
  • making a writing that says you are revoking your will while following the same formalities you used to make your original will. Rhode Island General Laws § 33-5-10.

If you marry after you make your will, Rhode Island law automatically revokes your will unless it's clear in your will that you were considering marriage at the time you made it. Rhode Island General Laws § 33-5-9.

If you and your spouse divorce after you make your will, Rhode Island law revokes any language in favor of your spouse. This rule does not apply if you specifically state in your will that you were considering divorce at the time that you made the will. Rhode Island General Laws § 33-5-9.1. If you have any concerns about the effects of divorce on your will, see an estate planning attorney for help.

If you need to make changes to your will, it's best to revoke it and make a new one. However, if you have only very simple changes to make, you could add an amendment to your existing will – this is called a codicil. In either case, you will need to finalize your changes with the same formalities you used to make your original will (see above).

Can I Make a Digital or Electronic Will?

In a handful of states, you can make a legal will digitally—that is, you can make the will, sign it, and have it witnessed without ever printing it out. Although such electronic wills are currently available in only a minority of states, many other states are considering making electronic wills legal. Rhode Island currently doesn't allow e-wills, but that may change in the future.

Where Can I Find Rhode Island's Laws About Making Wills?

You can find Rhode Island's laws about making wills here: Rhode Island General Laws Title 33 Probate Practice Procedure Chapter 33-5 Execution and Revocation of Wills.

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