Rhode Island Last Will and Testament Law

Wills and Estates – Last Will and Testament Law – Rhode Island

Rhode Island Wills Law Summary

Note:  This summary is not intended to be an all inclusive discussion of the law of wills in Rhode Island, but does contain basic and other provisions.  A discussion of hand written wills is not included.

Who May make a will: Every person of sane mind and eighteen (18) years or older in age, may devise, bequeath, or dispose of, by his or her will, executed in the manner required by this chapter, all real estate and all personal estate, which he or she shall be entitled to either at law or in equity at the time of his or her death and which, if not so devised, bequeathed or disposed of, would devolve upon the heir at law, or upon his or her executor or administrator, but not including an estate tail.

Legislative History: G.L. 1896, ch. 203, § 2; G.L. 1909, ch. 254, § 2; G.L. 1923, ch. 298, § 2; G.L. 1938, ch. 566, § 2; G.L. 1956, § 33-5-2; P.L. 1988, ch. 146, § 1.

Nomination of guardian by will: Every person authorized by law to make a will may nominate by his or her will a guardian or guardians for his or her children during their minority, and a successor guardian or guardians for persons who are retarded for whom he or she had been appointed guardian during his or her lifetime, and the probate court shall appoint the guardian or guardians unless good cause be shown to the contrary; provided, that, in the case of husband and wife, the survivor, being otherwise qualified, shall be the guardian of their children. 33-5-4

Legislative History: G.L. 1896, ch. 203, § 3; G.L. 1909, ch. 254, § 3; G.L. 1923, ch. 298, § 3; G.L. 1938, ch. 566, § 3; G.L. 1956, § 33-5-4; P.L. 1980, ch. 141, § 1.

Execution of will: A will shall be in writing and signed by the testator, and this signature shall be made or acknowledged by the testator in the presence of two (2) or more witnesses present at the same time, and the witnesses shall attest and shall subscribe the will in the presence of the testator, but no form of attestation shall be necessary, and no other publication shall be necessary. 33-5-5

Legislative History: G.L. 1896, ch. 203, § 13; G.L. 1909, ch. 254, § 13; G.L. 1923, ch. 298, § 13; G.L. 1938, ch. 566, § 13; G.L. 1956, § 33-5-5.

Wills conforming to laws of other states: Any last will and testament executed outside this state in the mode prescribed by the law, either of the place where executed or of the testator’s domicile, shall be deemed to be legally executed, and shall be of the same force and effect as if executed in the mode prescribed by the laws of this state; provided, the last will and testament is in writing and subscribed by the testator. 33-5-7.

Legislative History: G.L. 1896, ch. 203, § 36; G.L. 1909, ch. 254, § 36; P.L. 1911, ch. 706, § 1; G.L. 1923, ch. 298, § 36; G.L. 1938, ch. 566, § 35; G.L. 1956, § 33-5-7.

Revocation of will by marriage: The marriage of a person shall act as a revocation of a will made by him or her previous to the marriage, unless it appears from the will that it was made in contemplation thereof; but if the will exercises a power of appointment and the real and personal property thereby appointed would not, in default of the appointment, pass to the persons who would have been entitled to it had it been the property and estate of the testator or testatrix making the appointment and had he or she died intestate, so much of the will as makes the appointment shall not be revoked by the marriage. 33-5-9

Legislative History: G.L. 1896, ch. 203, § 16; G.L. 1909, ch. 254, § 16; G.L. 1923, ch. 298, § 16; P.L. 1931, ch. 1754, § 1; G.L. 1938, ch. 566, § 16; G.L. 1956, § 33-5-9; P.L. 1986, ch. 175, § 1.

Revocation of provision in will for divorced spouse: The entry of a final judgment in the divorce of a person shall act as a revocation of all provisions for the benefit of the former spouse in a will made by the person prior to the divorce, unless it appears from the will that the will was made in contemplation of the divorce. All other provisions in the will shall take effect as though the former spouse had predeceased the person. 33-5-9.1

Legislative History: P.L. 1986, ch. 175, § 2.

Methods of revoking will: A will may be revoked by another will or codicil executed in the manner required by law, or by some writing declaring an intention to revoke the will and executed in the manner in which a will is required to be executed, or by burning, tearing, or otherwise destroying the will by the testator, or by some person in his or her presence and by his or her direction, with the intention of revoking the will. 33-5-10

Legislative History: G.L. 1896, ch. 203, § 17; G.L. 1909, ch. 254, § 17; G.L. 1923, ch. 298, § 17; G.L. 1938, ch. 566, § 17; G.L. 1956, § 33-5-10.

Deposit with probate clerk: REPEALED SECTIONS. Sections 33-7-1 — 33-7-4 (C.P.A. 1905, §§ 781-784; G.L. 1909, ch. 310, §§ 1-4; G.L. 1923, ch. 361, §§ 1-4; G.L. 1938, ch. 572, §§ 1-4; P.L. 1939, ch. 659, § 2; P.L. 1977, ch. 246, § 1; P.L. 1986, ch. 324, § 1), relating to deposit of will with probate clerk, wrapping and indorsement and authorized opening of deposited will, person to whom delivered, and disposition of deposited will after death of testator, are repealed by P.L. 2008, ch. 306, § 1, effective December 31, 2008.

Duty of person in possession of will to deliver into court. Every person, other than a probate clerk, who has custody of a will shall, within thirty (30) days after notice of the death of the testator, deliver the will into the probate court which has jurisdiction of the probate thereof, or to the executors named in the will, who shall themselves deliver it into court within thirty (30) days after they receive the will; and if any executor or other person neglects, without reasonable cause, to deliver a will, after being duly cited for that purpose by the court, he or she may be adjudged to be in contempt and may be committed therefor to the adult correctional institutions and shall remain there until he or she delivers the will to the court; and he or she shall be further liable, to any party aggrieved, for the damage sustained by reason of the neglect.

Provided further, that a fiduciary nominated in a will may deliver such will to the probate court with an affidavit containing the following information, representations, and documentation:

(a) The date of death of the decedent accompanied by a certified copy of the decedent’s death certificate;
(b) A representative that the funeral bill of the decedent has been paid, accompanied by a receipt therefor;
(c) The names and addresses of the heirs-at-law of the decedent at the decedent’s date of death; and
(d) A representation that the affiant has received no notice of the issuance of letters testamentary or letters of administration regarding the estate of the decedent, and that there are no assets of the decedent subject to probate. Upon receipt of such will and affidavit the probate clerk, upon being paid a fee of thirty dollars ($30.00), shall receive and keep the will and accompanying affidavit and shall give a receipt of the deposit thereof. 33-7-5

Legislative History: C.P.A. 1905, § 785; G.L. 1909, ch. 310, § 5; G.L. 1923, ch. 361, § 5; G.L. 1938, ch. 572, § 5; impl. am. P.L. 1956, ch. 3721, § 1; G.L. 1956, § 33-7-5; P.L. 1998, ch. 448, § 3.

Penalty for theft, destruction, or concealment of will: Any person who shall either during the life of the testator or after his or her death steal or for any fraudulent purpose destroy or conceal any will or other testamentary instrument, either before or after probate, shall be imprisoned in the adult correctional institutions for a term of not more than five (5) years, and in any complaint, information, or indictment for the offense it shall not be necessary to allege that the will, codicil, or other instrument is the property of any person or that it is of any value. 33-7-7

Legislative History: C.P.A. 1905, § 789; G.L. 1909, ch. 310, § 9; G.L. 1923, ch. 361, § 9; G.L. 1938, ch. 572, § 9; impl. am. P.L. 1956, ch. 3721, § 1; G.L. 1956, § 33-7-7.

Proof of will of nonresident: The will, duly executed, of any person who resides outside the state at the time of his or her death, may be proved before the probate court of any town where any property is situated upon which the will may operate. 33-7-8.

Legislative History: C.P.A. 1905, § 788; G.L. 1909, ch. 310, § 8; G.L. 1923, ch. 361, § 8; G.L. 1938, ch. 572, § 8; G.L. 1956, § 33-7-8.

Proof of wills when subscribing witnesses unavailable:  Whenever it shall appear to a probate court, before which a purported will has been presented for probate, and whenever it shall appear to the superior court, before which a petition for probate of a will is pending on appeal, that a will cannot be proven as otherwise provided by law because one or more of the subscribing witnesses to the will, at the time the will is offered for probate, are serving in or present with the armed forces of the United States, or serving as merchant sailors, or are dead, or mentally or physically incapable of testifying, or otherwise are unavailable in the course of their service, the court may admit the will to probate upon the testimony in person or by deposition of at least two (2) credible disinterested witnesses that the signature to the will is in the handwriting of the person whose will it purports to be, or upon other sufficient proof of the handwriting. The foregoing provision shall not preclude the court, in its discretion, from requiring in addition, the testimony in person, or by deposition, of any available subscribing witness, or proof of such other important facts and circumstances as the court may deem necessary to admit the will to probate. 33-7-10.

Legislative History: P.L. 1944, ch. 1420, § 1; G.L. 1956, § 33-7-10.

Proof of purported will or codicil. In the absence of objection by anyone interested in the estate of a deceased person, the probate court may admit to probate a purported will or codicil of the deceased person upon oral testimony or affidavit in the following manner:

(1) The oral testimony of any one of the subscribing witnesses as to the due execution of any purported will or codicil shall constitute sufficient evidence thereof.

(2) An affidavit by the subscribing witnesses or any one or more of them, to any purported will or codicil, executed at any time after execution of the will or codicil, whether before or after the death of the testator, before any officer authorized to administer oaths in or out of this state, stating the facts as the witnesses or witness would be required to testify to in court to prove the will or codicil, shall constitute sufficient evidence of the due execution of the purported will or codicil. 33-7-26

(3) An affidavit substantially in the form that follows shall be deemed to meet the requirements of subdivision (2) of this section:



In . . . . . . . . . . on this . . . . . . . day of . . . . . . ., 19 . . . ., before me personally appeared the undersigned, who, being duly sworn, depose and say that: they witnessed the execution of the will (codicil) of . . . . . . .; that the signature to the will (codicil) is in the handwriting of the testator or was made by some other person for the testator, in the testator’s presence and by the testator’s express direction; that the testator so subscribed the will (codicil) and declared the same to be his last will (a codicil to his last will) in their presence; that they thereafter subscribed the same as witnesses in the presence of the testator and in the presence of each other; that at the time of execution of the will (codicil) the testator appeared to be of sound mind and eighteen (18) years of age or over; and that the signatures of the witnesses on the will are genuine.

Subscribed and sworn to before me on the day and date first above written,

Notary public

Legislative History: P.L. 1979, ch. 146, § 1; P.L. 1980, ch. 133, § 1.

Inside Rhode Island Last Will and Testament Law