Probate, trust, guardianship and inheritance litigation
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Surviving Spouse Rights Rhode Island

Surviving spouses in Rhode Island have many rights and entitlements, including:

  • Intestate Share
  • Support Allowance
  • Elective Share
  • Life Estate

Widow’s rights in Rhode Island are a little different than in other states, because the surviving spouse is granted a life estate in decedent’s real property.

Surviving Spouse Rights In Rhode Island When There Is No Will

When someone dies without a will, they have died intestate.  When someone dies intestate, Rhode Island law controls the distribution of the estate.  The surviving spouse’s share of the deceased spouse’s intestate estate depends on the other survivors of the decedent.  A surviving spouse in Rhode Island is automatically entitled to a life estate in the real property owned by the decedent.  RI Gen L 33-1-5. The surviving spouse can petition to receive up to $150,000 of the decedent’s intestate real property value.  RI Gen L 33-1-6.

  • No surviving descendants:  If a decedent dies with a surviving spouse, but no surviving children, the surviving spouse also receives the first $50,000 of personal property, and 1/2 of the balance.   RI Gen L 33-1-10.  The balance goes to the decedent’s parents or siblings.
  • Surviving Descendants:  If the decedent had surviving descendants, the surviving spouse has the right to  1/2 of decedent’s personal property.

Surviving Spouse’s Right To An Elective Share

The surviving spouse in a testate estate (where there is a valid last will) has the right to renounce the will and take an elective share in decedent’s estate.  A surviving spouse might choose to take an elective share when they are not left a satisfactory amount in the will, or are left out of the will completely.

Under Rhode Island law, the surviving spouse must file a written statement waiving the bequest in the will in order to exercise the surviving spouse’s elective share rights.  The surviving spouse must elect to take an elective share within six months of the appointment of the estate’s personal representative.

The elective share  entitles a surviving spouse to elect to receive a distribution in an amount equal to the (a) life estate and allowance of an intestate decedent’s real estate pursuant to RI Gen L 33-1-5 and 33-1-6, and (b) share of an intestate’s personal estate pursuant to RI L 33-1-10.  This is in addition to furnishings, household items, and other exempt personal property.

Surviving Spouse Allowances And Exemptions

A surviving spouse in Rhode Island also has the right to certain allowances and exemptions.  These rights include exempt property (RI Gen L 33-10-1), and a support allowance (RI Gen L 33-10-3).  The period for the support allowance is not to exceed six months from the date of decedent’s death, but can be extended in the court’s discretion.

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