Estate Administration and Probate

When a person passes away, the property that person owned is generally called an "estate". The estate will be passed to that person's heirs or beneficiaries through a process referred to as estate administration. Part of that estate administration process may involve assets passing under the terms of a Last Will and Testament. Assets distributed pursuant to a Will must go through probate under the supervision of the Probate Court. Assets may also pass outside of probate to beneficiaries under the terms of a trust agreement, joint ownership arrangements or by beneficiary designation. See our FAQ section for more detailed information on probate and estate taxes.

Common Estate Administration Terminology

The process of probate and estate administration can seem complicated, in part because of the specialized terms that are used. To clarify the process, it helps to understand what some common probate terms mean.

  • The decedent is the person who died
  • An estate is the decedent’s property
  • Testate means the decedent died with a Will
  • Intestate means the decedent died without a Will
  • Heirs are the people who receive property when a person dies without a Will
  • Beneficiaries are the people who are designated to receive property in a person’s Will, trust or from life insurance and retirement accounts
  • The Executor is the person named in a Will who will manage the estate and oversee distribution of estate assets
  • An estate Administrator is appointed to oversee an estate when a decedent died without a Will

Probate and Estate Administration in Rhode Island

If a person dies testate (with a Will), the person named in the Will as the Executor must open an estate with the probate court to “prove” the Will. Proving a Will means that a probate court judge reviews the Will to ensure that it is valid.

Once the Will has been proved, the probate court will issue a Certificate of Appointment that formally gives Executor power to administer the estate.

Once the estate is ready to be administered, the Executor will take an inventory of the estate, pay outstanding debts and taxes, and distribute the estate according to the terms of the Will.

If the decedent died intestate (without a Will), the court will appoint an estate Administrator who will oversee the administration of the estate.

Can I Avoid Probate?

Certain assets are not subject to probate. Assets can pass outside of probate if they are:

  • Transferable on death
  • Payable upon death
  • Owned with a right of survivorship
  • Placed in a trust

For smaller estates, Rhode Island allows for a simplified process of estate administration. In Rhode Island, an estate is eligible for the simplified administration if the estate is valued at less than $15,000.

How a Sullivan Estate Law Probate Attorney Can Help

Probate and estate administration is a complicated process. By working with the experienced attorneys of Sullivan Estate Law, you and your family gain peace of mind in the knowledge that your loved one’s estate is being handled the right way.

Sullivan Estate Law, P.C. has been handling estate administration and probate in and around North Kingstown since 1955. Meet our team and learn what to expect when you work with us, read testimonials from other people we have helped, and contact us today to schedule a confidential consultation to discuss your needs.