When someone passes away, before their property can be given to others, their will must be probated and their estate must go through an administration process under the supervision of the Probate Court. The reason for this is to ensure that the decedent’s affairs have been taken care of and to ensure that the people who are supposed to get the decedent’s property get it. Estate administration can be complicated as the detailed provision of Rhode Island Probate and Practice Law must be followed. RI Gen L § 33-1-1 et seq.
Probate and Administration
Probate and administration involve several specific steps that ultimately lead to the delivery of assets to their new owners and closing of the estate. It is initiated when a petition is filed with the Probate Court that is in the same county as the decedent lived. If there is a will, the will along must be submitted with the petition. Part of the application for starting an estate matter is requesting the appointment of the personal representative.
After the will is accepted and personal representative appointed, the settlement of the estate can begin. The personal representative is charged with caring for the duties and responsibilities of the administration process. For example, the personal representative must identify, secure, and appraise the assets in the estate. Because the value of the estate impacts the next steps, it is important that it is accurate. If necessary, the court can authorize the hiring of appraisers.
The executor must also make sure that all estate debts are paid. During probate the creditors will file claims against the estate. If the claim is valid, then the executor must pay it if there are sufficient funds available. The executor must be prepared to defend the estate against unsubstantiated claims. After creditors are paid, claims settled, and expenses of administration paid, the executor can distribute assets based on the stipulations of the will or Rhode Island law.
In Rhode Island the estate administration process takes at least 6 months. However, Administration can take significantly longer if there are complications such as probate disputes, missing heirs, or lack of liquidity. On the other hand, if the estate qualifies of special expedited procedures, asset distribution can begin a lot more quickly.
Probate litigation occurs when disagreements develop during the process and the parties cannot resolve it on their own through negotiation. Instead, the issues must be litigated in court. Probate disputes can develop early in the process if someone objects to the validity of the will and initiate a will contest. Beneficiaries or heirs might challenge the actions of the executor or personal representative. Beneficiaries and heirs may even disagree with each other over the right to specific assets or other issues throughout the process.
While probate is closely associated with validating a will and following its instructions, intestate estates must also go through the probate administration process. There are two main differences. First, instead of the estate being managed by the executor nominated in the will, it is managed by a personal representative appointed by the court. Second, the decedent’s assets are distributed based on Rhode Island’s intestate succession law. RI Gen L § 33-1-1. If the decedent has a surviving spouse or children, they would be the primary heirs. Otherwise, the property would go to the decedent’s parents or siblings.
Not all estates must go through the formal administration process. Rhode Island law allows for a simplified process for small estates. Instead of the detailed administration process that can take months, pursuant to RI Gen L § 33-24-1 a person entitled to assets in the estate such as a family member can submit a petition requesting approval for voluntary informal administration and the immediate distribution of assets. To qualify for this process, the value of the estate must not exceed $15,000 and there is a 30-day waiting period. The applicant must also agree to pay off estate debts and expenses and to distribute the remaining property in the estate to others according to the law.