What Happens Without a Will? - MDA Legal

1 January 2013
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What happens if I die without a will?

In Rhode Island, if someone dies without a will, the laws of intestacy govern the distribution of their estate. Intestacy laws attempt to anticipate how a person would have desired their assets to be distributed. Intestacy laws govern when someone dies without a will, when a will does not dispose of all of the property in an estate, or if the will is denied probate due to improper execution or as a result of a successful will contest.

The intestacy laws differ depending on the circumstances of the decedent. If the decedent died with no surviving spouse,

  1. the estate will pass in equal shares to the living children of the decedent, or in the case of a child who has previously died, to that child’s living issue.
  2. if the decedent dies with no children, the estate will pass in equal shares to any surviving parents.
  3. if the decedent dies with no living children or parents, to surviving siblings or their children.

In effect, the intestacy laws search the decedent’s family tree to determine the closest surviving relatives and allow those relatives to inherit the estate. If no relatives are discovered, the estate will pass to the State.

If the decedent dies with a surviving spouse as well as issue, the surviving spouse receives a “life estate” in any real estate owned by the decedent at death. This means the surviving spouse has the right to use and enjoy the property for the remainder of his or her life, but at the surviving spouse’s death, ownership of the property reverts to the decedent’s issue. Any personal property of the decedent is split with half being distributed to the surviving spouse and half being split among the surviving issue.

If the decedent dies with a surviving spouse and no children, the spouse is entitled to a life estate in any real estate owned by the decedent at the time of death. In addition, the surviving spouse may receive up to $75,000 worth of real estate if it is not necessary to pay debts of the estate. Finally, the surviving spouse is entitled to receive $50,000 plus half of the remainder of personal property in the estate.

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