If you die without a valid will while residing in the State of Rhode Island, you are said to have died "intestate." In order to determine who will receive your property if you die intestate, the State of Rhode Island has established a number of laws (known as "intestacy laws" or "laws of intestate succession.") The primary statutes comprising these intestacy laws, or laws of intestate succession, are set forth below. For a more complete list, see Rhode Island Intestacy Laws | Intestate Succession statutes.
Rules of Descent
§ 33-1-1 Real estate descending by intestacy to children or descendants, parents, or brothers and sisters. – Whenever any person having title to any real estate of inheritance shall die intestate as to such estate, it shall descend and pass in equal portions to his or her kindred, in the following course:
(1) First to his children or their descendants, if there are any.
(2) Second if there be no children nor their descendants, then to the parents in equal shares, or to the surviving parent of such intestate.
(3) Third if there is no parent, then to the brothers and sisters of the intestate, and their descendants.
§ 33-1-2 Descent of real estate to paternal or maternal kindred. – If there is no parent, nor brother, nor sister, nor their descendants, the inheritance shall go in equal moieties to the paternal and maternal kindred, each in the following course:
(1) First to the grandparents, in equal shares, if any there be.
(2) Second if there be no grandparent, then to the uncles and aunts, or their descendants by representation, or such of them as there be.
(3) Third if there be no grandparent, nor uncle, nor aunt, nor their descendants, then to the great grandparents in equal shares, if any there be.
(4) Fourth if there be no great grandparent, then to the great uncles and great aunts or their descendants by representation, or such of them as there be; and so on, in other cases, without end, passing to the nearest lineal ancestors and their descendants or such of them as there be.
§ 33-1-3 Descent when no paternal or maternal kindred survive. – When in this chapter the inheritance is directed to go by moieties to the paternal and maternal kindred, if there are no such kindred on the one part, the whole shall go to the other part; and if there are no kindred either on the one part or the other the whole shall go to the husband or wife of the intestate, and if the husband or wife is dead, it shall go to his or her kindred in the like course as if such husband or wife had survived the intestate and then died entitled to the estate.
§ 33-1-4 Descent to persons not in being or not capable to take as heirs. – No right in the inheritance shall accrue to any persons whatsoever other than to the children of the intestate, unless such persons are in being and capable in law to take as heirs at the time of the intestate's death.
§ 33-1-5 Life estate descending to spouse. – Whenever the intestate dies without issue and leaves a husband or wife surviving, the real estate of the intestate shall descend and pass to the husband or wife for his or her natural life. The provisions of §§ 33-1-1 and 33-1-2 shall be subject to the provisions of this section and § 33-1-6.
§ 33-1-6 Widow's or husband's allowance of real estate in fee. – The probate court having jurisdiction of the estate of the intestate, if a resident of this state, or the probate court of any city or town in which the real estate of the intestate is situated if not a resident of this state, may also, in its discretion if there is no issue as aforesaid, upon petition filed within six (6) months from the date of the first publication of notice of the qualification of the administrator of the estate of the intestate, allow and set off to the widow or husband in fee real estate of the decedent situated in this state to an amount not exceeding seventy-five thousand dollars ($75,000) in value, over and above all incumbrances, if not required for the payment of the debts of the decedent; provided that if the real estate shall be in a single parcel of greater value over and above incumbrances than seventy-five thousand dollars ($75,000) and shall be deemed by the court, because of such condition and value, to be incapable of being allowed and set off hereunder, either as a whole or by partition, without unreasonable diminution in the value thereof, the court may order the parcel to be sold by the administrator, the administrator giving bond as in other cases of the sale of real estate, and from the proceeds of such sale may allow and set off the sum of seventy-five thousand dollars ($75,000) to the widow or surviving husband for his or her own use and any surplus of the proceeds of sale shall be deemed to be real estate for the purposes of descent and distribution; provided, however, that title to real estate situated in any town or city of this state shall not pass by the decree of the probate court setting off and allowing such real estate, for the purpose of conveyance by the widow or surviving husband until a copy of such decree as entered, duly certified by the probate clerk, is recorded in the records of land evidence in the town or city where the land is situated.
§ 33-1-7 Descendants of deceased heirs. – The descendants of any person deceased shall inherit the estate which the person would have inherited had the person survived the intestate, subject to the express provisions of these canons of descent.
§ 33-1-8 Children born out of wedlock. – A child born out of wedlock shall be capable of inheriting or transmitting inheritance on the part of his or her mother and father in like manner as if born in lawful wedlock. Any such child whose parents shall lawfully intermarry and shall acknowledge him or her as their child shall be deemed legitimate.
§ 33-1-10 Surplus personalty not bequeathed. – The surplus of any chattels or personal estate of a deceased person, not bequeathed, after the payment of his or her just debts, funeral charges, and expenses of settling his or her estate, shall be distributed by order of the probate court which shall grant administration in the manner following:
(1) The sum of fifty thousand dollars ($50,000) from the surplus and one-half (1/2) of the remainder to the widow or surviving husband forever, if the intestate died without issue.
(2) One-half (1/2) of the surplus to the widow or surviving husband forever, if the intestate died leaving issue.
(3) The residue shall be distributed among the heirs of the intestate in the same manner real estates descend and pass by this chapter, but without having any respect to the life estate and discretionary allowance provided by §§ 33-1-5 and 33-1-6.
§ 33-1-11 Advancements. – If real estate shall be conveyed by deed of gift, or personal estate shall be delivered to a child or grandchild, and charged, or a memorandum made thereof in writing by the intestate or by his or her order, or shall be delivered expressly for that purpose in the presence of two (2) witnesses, who were requested to take notice thereof, the real estate or personal estate shall be deemed an advancement to the child to the value of the real or personal estate.
[Reference - Rhode Island Intestacy Laws | Intestate Succession].