Probate for Small RI EstatesShow Table of Contents
Full probate is not required for "small" estates in Rhode Island, allowing executors to save considerable effort and cost.
Small Estate Requirements
To use the small estate process in Rhode Island, the following must be true:
- The value of all intangible personal property is <$15,000
- The estate contains no real estate without rights of survivorship
- At least 30 days have passed since the death
- No petition has already been made to the court to officially appoint a personal representative
In evaluating the $15,000 limit, you should ignore any tangible personal property (such as cars and household furniture), and include only "intangible" assets such as stocks, bank accounts, and other financial instruments. Value these intangible assets as of the date of death, and ignore any debts.
Do not include assets that would not normally go through probate, such as community property with rights of survivorship, assets with named beneficiaries (e.g., 401Ks, life insurance policies), and other standard probate exclusions.
If the estate meets the requirements above, you can simplify the probate process by serving as a voluntary executor:
- Submit to the court a Petition for Voluntary Informal Executor (Form PC-1.9) or if there is no will, a Petition for Voluntary Informal Administrator (Form PC-1.10)
- Upon approval, the court will give you a certificate of appointment
- Use your certificate to collect estate assets from current custodians
- Pay estate debts according to the debt payment priorities listed below
- If there is a will, distribute anything remaining to the inheritors named in will
- If there is no will, distribute anything remaining to the surviving spouse, or if there is no spouse, according to RI Gen L § 33-1-10
One downside to serving as a voluntary executor is that you are not allowed to charge an executor fee.
Debt Payment Priorities
If there is not enough money to pay all debts, you must pay the debts in the following priority order until the money runs out:
- Necessary expenses of the funeral and last sickness of the deceased
- Necessary estate administration expenses
- Debts due to the United States
- Debts due to Rhode Island, and all state and town taxes
- Past and future child support obligations
- Up to $1K per person for back wages during the 6 months prior to death
- Anything due to the Rhode Island state lottery
- Any other valid debts
If estate solvency is uncertain, an executor should consider going through full probate for the increased protection from creditors it offers. Alternately, such uncertainty can sometimes persuade creditors to forgive a portion of debts, since they will want to avoid legal expenses as well, and may prefer to get something rather than nothing.
See also General Probate.