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Rhode Island's rules for intestate succession

Estate planning is not something that sits at the forefront of most Rhode Island residents' minds (nor those of most adults in the U.S., for that matter). Indeed, according to information shared by the American Association of Retired Persons, more than 60 percent of American adults do not have a will. This is the case despite estate planning experts advising all adults that they create such documents early on in their lives. The main motivation behind seeing to one's estate planning is control. Without a will in place, one forfeits the opportunity to dictate who will receive the assets that they have spent a lifetime accumulating. 

A legal term is applied to cases where one dies without a will: intestacy. In such an instance, the state determines who receives a decedent's assets. Local intestates succession guidelines can be found in Section 33-1 of Rhode Island's state statutes. Here, it states that one's spouse is entitled to the entirety of their estate if they die intestate. If one has no surviving spouse, then the order of descent of their intestate estate is as follows: 

  • Their children (or their children's descendants) 
  • Their parents
  • Their siblings (or their siblings' descendants)
  • Their grandparents
  • Their aunts and uncles (or their aunts and uncles' descendants)
  • Their great grandparents (or their nearest surviving kin)

If they have no surviving biological kin, their estate would pass to the descendants of their spouse in the same order. 

A careful review of the aforementioned regulations reveals that no one related to one who dies intestate (either biologically or through marriage) has to entitlement to an inheritance. Thus, those who would like to see portions of their estate benefit others not related to them must stipulate those desires in a will. 

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