How long does the probate process take in Rhode Island?

The petition must be accompanied by the death certificate so the process cannot be initiated until the death certificate is issued. That can take a week or two after the date of death.

The petition must be advertised in the newspaper for 3 weeks before the hearing. All probate courts in Rhode Island meet at least once a month. If all the heirs and beneficiaries under the Will sign a waiver indicating that the hearing does not need to be advertised, then the hearing can be held at the next available hearing date. Getting to the hearing can take as long as two months or as short as two weeks depending on the circumstances.

At the hearing, the probate court judge will inquire about the size of the estate and confirm that the petition and Will comply with all the legal formalities. If everything is in order the court will approve the appointment of the fiduciary (an Executor or Administrator, as appropriate). The court will require that the fiduciary file a bond.  Upon receipt of the bond, the probate court will issue a Certificate of Appointment. It can take about a week or two to obtain the Certificate of Appointment.

The fiduciary needs the Certificate of Appointment to prove to third parties such as financial institutions that the fiduciary has the legal authority to deal with the assets passing through the probate process.  The fiduciary must identify the assets that are held in the decedent’s name alone.

The fiduciary must file an inventory with the probate court within 90 days after their appointment. This is a list of the assets valued as of the date of the decedent’s death.

The probate court will post a notice in the newspaper after the fiduciary is appointed notifying all creditors of the appointment and the need to file a claim to settle their debt. The fiduciary must also mail notice to any known creditors.  The estate must remain open for a minimum of six (6) months from the date of the first advertisement to creditors.

The fiduciary will take control of all assets passing through the probate process, deal with debts, and account to the estate beneficiaries as to how the assets were handled while the fiduciary was in charge of them. This might involve the sale of real estate, liquidation of securities, and submission of claims for assets payable to the estate such as life insurance. When these activities have been completed, the fiduciary will account to the estate beneficiaries.  That accounting will show: (i) the value of the assets as of the date of death; (ii) assets acquired after death such as interest and dividends; (iii) expenses incurred in administering the estate such as property taxes, utilities, legal and accounting fees, probate fees, realtor commission if real estate was sold; and (iv) the net estate available for distribution to the estate beneficiaries. 

Once the following actions are completed the probate estate can be closed by filing affidavits confirming that the administration of the estate has been completed:

  1. The assets are collected.
  2. The bills are paid.
  3. The Rhode Island estate tax has been filed and a Certificate of No Tax or Receipt for Payment of Taxes is issued by the Rhode Island Division of Taxation (see explanation below).
  4. The fiduciary has filed the inventory with the court and accounted to the beneficiaries.
  5. The beneficiaries are: (i) satisfied with the form of the accounting and all beneficiaries execute a release and receipt; or (ii) not satisfied with the form of the accounting and the fiduciary files the accounting with the probate court seeking approval of the accounting by the probate judge.

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