If a Rhode Island resident makes a valid will, she gets to choose how her property is divided. Rhode Island law requires residents to be at least 18 years old and capable of understanding the significance of making a will. Moreover, state law requires two witnesses during the signing of a will. If a resident fails to make a will, she dies "intestate." When a Rhode Island resident dies intestate, i.e. without a will, her property is divided among family members according to state law. These laws are referred to as laws of descent and distribution or laws of intestate succession.
Spouse's Rights in Real and Personal Property
If a Rhode Island resident fails to leave a will, her spouse receives a life estate in the real property. A life estate grants only the use of property until death. In other words, a surviving spouse cannot bequeath his life estate to a chosen beneficiary in a will. However, if a decedent has a surviving spouse and no children, the surviving spouse may petition the probate court and receive up to $75,000 worth of a deceased spouse's real estate in fee simple. Regarding personal property, a surviving spouse receives $50,000 plus one-half of the remaining assets if there are no children. If the decedent did have children, the surviving spouse receives only one-half of the personal property.
According to Rhode Island's inheritance laws, children are entitled to a certain portion of their deceased parent's estate. If a parent dies having left no surviving spouse, the entire estate passes to her children in equal shares. If a parent dies with a surviving spouse, the children receive whatever portion the surviving spouse doesn't receive. In other words, if a married parent dies with no will, her surviving spouse will receive one-half of her personal property and her children split the remaining half equally.
Parents and Siblings
In Rhode Island, when a resident dies intestate with no spouse, children or grandchildren, her parents inherit her estate equally. If only one parent survives, that parent will receive the entire estate. If a Rhode Island resident dies intestate with no spouse, children, grandchildren or parents, her siblings inherit her estate in equal shares.
By Right of Representation
Rhode Island inheritance laws apply the concept of inheritance by right of representation. This means that children receive their parent's inheritance share if their parent predeceases them. For example, if a Rhode Island resident dies intestate with no surviving spouse, her estate would pass to her children. However, if a child has died before her, her grandchildren step into their parent's place and receive their parent's inheritance share.