Rhode Island Wills

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Rhode Island Will Requirements

A Rhode Island Will (also known as a Rhode Island Last Will and Testament) is an important legal document used for distributing property after your death. There are strict requirements when making, executing and witnessing this document.

Who can make a Rhode Island Last Will and Testament?

Any person aged at least 18 years and of sound mind. § 33-5-2

What are the requirements?

A Rhode Island Will needs to be in writing and signed by the testator in the presence of two (2) or more witnesses. § 33-5-5

Can a spouse witness a Will in Rhode Island?

No. If a witness (or any person claiming under that person) receives any benefit under the Will, then that gift or appointment is null and void. Your witnesses must be fully independent. They cannot even be a spouse or relative of any person receiving a gift or appointment under your Rhode Island Will. If the gift does become void, the remaining parts of the Will stay valid. § 33-6-1

How do I appoint a guardian for my Children?

If you are making a Rhode Island Will, you can nominate a person or persons to be your minor children’s guardian during their minority. If you have been appointed a guardian for disabled children, then you may appoint a successor guardian in your Rhode Island Last Will and Testament. The person or persons you appoint will be appointed by the probate court, unless good cause can be shown to the contrary. If you have nominated a husband and wife, then the survivor of them take on the role. § 33-5-4

How do I revoke my Rhode Island Will?

  • Burning, tearing or otherwise destroying the Will by the testator.


  • Making a new Will or codicil.



  • Writing a declaration stating an intention to revoke the Will. This must be signed and witnessed in the same manner as a Will. § 33-5-10


To ensure complete revocation, attorneys advise making a new Rhode Island Will which revokes all former Wills and physically destroying all former Wills.

Are there any circumstances which automatically revoke my Will?

  • Unlike other states, marriage revokes an entire Rhode Island Will and Testament, unless it appears from the Will that it was made in contemplation of marriage. However, some powers of appointment remain intact in certain circumstances. § 33-5-9


  • Divorce cancels those parts of a Will made prior to divorce which benefit the former spouse, unless it’s clear the Will was made in contemplation of the divorce. § 33-5-9.1


How can I change a Last Will?

Rhode Island Wills can be altered by signing a Codicil or by making a new Will and revoking the former.

Disinherit Spouse or Children from a Rhode Island Will

Things you must know before you try to exclude a spouse or child from your Will. The Rhode Island probate statute provides entitlements which for excluded family members.

Can children be excluded from Rhode Island Wills?

Any person may exclude his/her children from the Will by clear intention. However, if it appears that your exclusion was done by mistake (ie: you forgot to add them), then the persons deemed omitted by accident will benefit under your estate. An accidental omission will be deemed if you omit to provide for any of the following in your Rhode Island Last Will:

  • children who are born after your Will;


  • issue of your child who has died after your Will has been executed;



  • issue born after you sign your will whose parent is a deceased child of yours who died before you signed the Will. § 33-6-23


These persons will receive the same share as thought you had died intestate (without making a Will).

Can I exclude my spouse from my Will?

If your try to exclude your wife, husband or spouse from benefiting under a Rhode Island Will, then he/she is still entitled to various entitlements regardless of the Will , including:

  • Life Estate – in the real estate owned by you at the time of your death for the duration of your spouse’s life. § 33-25-2


  • Personal Property – household effects, supplies and other personal property as the probate court deems necessary, having regard to all the circumstances. § 33-10-1



  • Family Support – a reasonable allowance determined by the court to support your family until it can be provided from elsewhere, up to a maximum of six months from the date of your death. This allowance may be extended for a further six months. § 33-10-3


Excluding a spouse or child from your Rhode Island Last Will & Testament is not as simple as omitting them from the document. It is not advisable to attempt to exclude any child or spouse yourself without guidance from a practicing attorney.

Probating Rhode Island Wills

The Rhode Island probate process is simplified for smaller estates. A petition needs to be filed with the probate court to commence proceedings.

The original Will

The person who has the original Rhode Island Will must deliver it to the court or to the executor within 30 days of notice of the death. If the executor receives the Rhode Island last Will and Testament, then he/she must deliver it to the court within 30 days of receiving it.

Small Estates

Where the deceased’s assets consist of personal property up to the value of $15,000 the small estates procedure can be used to informally probate the Will and appoint the executor named in the Will. § 33-24-2

Will Probate Forms

The Rhode Island Secretary of State provides the necessary Forms to Probate a Rhode Island Will. Some forms are not available online, requiring you to contact the court in order to obtain a copy.

Estate Tax

For advice on Rhode Island Estate tax and Inheritance tax, contact the State of Rhode Island Division of Taxation.

How do I get copies of the deceased’s emails?

An executor named under a Rhode Island Will may request access to or copies of the testator’s emails from the service provider. They will need to provide a written request, copy of the death certificate, a certified copy of the certificate appointing them as executor of the Will or administrator together with an indemnity from the estate. § 33-27-3

Contesting a Rhode Island Will

Any interested person may contest and object to the probate of a Rhode Island Will and Testament § 33-7-26. Reasons for contesting a Rhode Island Last Will and Testament generally include fraud, duress, undue influence or improper execution. When a Will contest is filed, the Rhode Island probate court requires the applicant to file information about devisees and legatees named in the Will. The petitioner is required to provide notice of the contest to these persons. § 33-22-4 At the hearing, the Rhode Island rules of evidence must be applied, unless the parties agree otherwise. § 33-22-19.2 If you lose the Will contest, you may be required to pay the personal representative’s costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees. The court has wide discretion in determining the issue of costs. § 33-22-26 There is not much further guidance provided by the statute or the courts about Rhode Island Will contests. You should consult an experienced attorney for advice.

What happens if I die without a Rhode Island Will?

If you are resident of Rhode Island and pass away without a Rhode Island Will and Testament, your assets will pass according to Rhode Island Intestacy Laws. The State treats real and personal property differently when it comes to intestate succession. It is more complex than other states’ succession laws.

What does my spouse get?

Personal Property:

This includes savings, financial accounts, household furniture and effects, chattels, motor vehicles and any other property of a personal nature but no real estate. After the estate debts, funeral charges and administration expenses are paid, the spouse receives: § 33-1-10

  • If there are no children or grandchildren: $50,000 + one half of the balance


  • If there are children or grandchildren: one half of the balance.


Real Property:

The surviving spouse is entitled to a life estate in your real estate. This means a right to ownership of the property for the duration of your spouse’s life. Note that jointly owned property does not come under the intestate succession rules and do not pass under a Rhode Island Will. If there are no children surviving, then the court may allow the widow to keep the real property if it’s worth $75,000 or less, unless it’s required for the payment of debts. § 33-1-6 If the property is worth more than $75,000, the probate court may order the property to be sold, entitling the spouse to $75,000 of the sale proceeds. § 33-1-6.

Who gets the balance?

The remaining personal and real property not inherited by your spouse will pass to:

  • Your children or their descendants if they predecease;


  • If there are no children or grandchildren, your parents or the survivor of them



  • If there are no parents, then to your brothers and sisters or their descendants by representation. § 33-1-1



  • Only when you have no remaining family (grandparents, uncles, aunts, their descendants, great grandparents, great uncles, great aunts and their descendents, nearest lineal ancestors and their descendants), then the remaining personal property and real property will pass to your husband or wife. § 33-1-3


As you can see, the Rhode Island intestacy rules are extremely complex. It is highly important for you to have a Rhode Island Last Will and Testament, especially to protect your spouse. To make the legislation easier to understand, here are some examples of how a Rhode Island resident’s assets would be distributed if they did not leave a Will: Mark died without a Will. He was married to Helen & did not have children. He left behind real estate worth $200,000 and $100,000 in personal effects and savings. Who gets what? Helen: $75,000 of personal property & Life estate in the real estate or $75,000 if the court allows the property to be sold, Mark’s Parents: $25,000 of personal property & The real estate after Helen dies or $125,000 if the court allows the property to be sold. Judy passed away leaving her husband Eric, two children from their marriage, $300,000 real estate property and $50,000 in savings and personal property. Who gets what? Eric: $25,000 of personal property & life estate in the real estate or $75,000 if the court allows the property to be sold, Eric & Judy’s children: $12,500 of personal property each & The real estate after Eric dies, or $225,000 if the court allows the property to be sold. Keith died without leaving a Will. He and his wife Andrea had two children together. Andrea also has a child from a former partner. Keith left $200,000 real estate property & $100,000 personal property. Who gets what? Andrea: $50,000 personal property & Life estate in the real estate or $75,000 if the court allows the property to be sold, Andrea & Keith’s children: $25,000 of personal property each & The real estate after Andrea dies, or $125,000 if the property is sold, Andrea’s child from former partner: Nil.

Rhode Island Will Forms

Note: Before making a Rhode Island Will, we recommend you research information on preparing, signing and witnessing a Last Will and Testament, including tips on:

  • Distributing your property including specific bequests and the residue
  • Appointing an Executor
  • Creating a Trust
  • Appointing a Trustee to look after trust property of minor children or other beneficiaries
  • Designating a guardian for your minor children

Sample Rhode Island will forms available as free downloads (printable PDF documents).

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