The probate process can be long and drawn-out, costing your survivors time as well as money. Fortunately, Rhode Island offers a probate shortcut for "small estates." If the property you leave behind at your death is below a certain amount, your loved ones can use a procedure called "informal administration of small estates" to transfer your property more quickly and with less hassle.
You can use the simplified probate process in Rhode Island if:
(R.I. Gen. Laws § 33-24-1.)
Note that not all types of property are counted. Certain types of property aren't subject to probate, and therefore aren't included in the $15,000 threshold. Nonprobate property includes:
Similarly, tangible personal property (such as household furniture and items) aren't counted either. In other words, even relatively large estates might still qualify as a "small estate" for purposes of this proceeding.
To request informal administration of small estate, you would file a Petition for Voluntary Informal Administrator. This document includes information such as:
The inheritor pays a small filing fee as well.
The court clerk then provides a certification of appointment that allows the inheritor to collect the deceased person's assets and sell them for cash, if desired. Before distributing assets to the inheritors, the inheritor must pay off debts and expenses in the following order:
(R.I. Gen. Laws § 33-24-1(e) and § 33-12-11.)
For help determining if an estate qualifies for one of these probate shortcuts, or handling an estate in general, see see The Executor's Guide, by Mary Randolph (Nolo) or Estate Planning Basics, by Denis Clifford (Nolo).
For more on Rhode Island estate planning issues, see our section on Rhode Island Estate Planning.