Rhode Island: Every Legal, Medical, and Estate Planning Document You Need

Here's a complete guide to every critical medical, legal, and estate planning document and relevant state law for Rhode Island. Download these forms and get started with Pillar to organize all of your most important documents in one safe, secure, easy-to-use online storage solution

February 2, 2021

Planning for your death or a medical emergency may feel morbid or like something that can wait for another day, but it's essential. If you live in Rhode Island, there a number of specific laws that can affect your tax situation, inheritance, will, and medical treatment.

Here's a comprehensive guide to the most important medical, legal, and estate planning laws and forms you need to know about if you live in Rhode Island. Download these documents — and storing them in a safe, accessible place — to start preparing for whatever the future may bring. Here's everything you need to know if you live in Rhode Island.

Essential Rhode Island Medical State Laws & Forms

Rhode Island Medical Records & Death Certificates

How long do doctors keep medical records in Rhode Island?

Rhode Island requires that medical practices store patient’s medical records for at least 7 years from the last patient encounter.

Medical practices must also provide copies when requested and are permitted to charge a reasonable fee for copying the records. When a practice closes, it must make a way for patients to get copies of records for at least 7 years. The Rhode Island Medical Society should be aware of the location of records for closed practices. 

Where do I get copies of a death certificate in Rhode Island?

Death certificates are an official record of the date of death and cause of death of a deceased person. The probate court, banks, life insurance companies, and other entities related to the wrapping up of affairs may require a copy.

There are three ways to obtain a death certificate in Rhode Island:

  1. Obtain it online through the Rhode Island Department of Health vendor VitalChek.
  2. Mail an application to the Rhode Island Department of Health Center for Vital Records. See complete instructions here.
  3. Drop off a completed application at the Rhode Island Department of Health Cannon Building lock box in Providence. 

Rhode Island Advance Directive Laws

Rhode Island recognizes that adults have the fundamental right to make decisions regarding their health care, including the implementation or withdrawal of life-sustaining medical treatment, and that these rights should be respected through all stages of illness

By completing these documents, you can ensure your wishes are followed, even if you are no longer able to voice them. They also relieve your loved ones of the burden of trying to guess your wishes or make difficult decisions on their own. 

What form do I use to make a living will in Rhode Island?

The Rhode Island Rights of the Terminally Ill Act creates a form and codifies the concept that written declarations regarding medical instructions should be honored, even if the patient is incapacitated. Use of the below form is not required, but any declaration, including the statutory form, must be signed in the presence of two witnesses not related by blood or marriage. 

How do I make a do not resuscitate order in Rhode Island?

Rhode Island permits patients to create a medical orders document that is filed with the medical provider and transfers with the patient to any new facility. This document allows the patient to choose among the most common medical interventions, including artificial nutrition and hydration. It also acts as a do not resuscitate order (DNR), if that option is selected. 

Rhode island does not permit physician-assisted suicide.

Can I make a durable power of attorney for health care in Rhode Island?

A durable power of attorney for health care allows another authorized person to make decisions regarding your healthcare, and this form designates that decision-maker, also called the attorney-in-fact. 

When a power of attorney form is designated as durable, that means that the attorney-in-fact’s power remains even after your incapacity. Non-durable powers of attorney terminate at the onset of incapacity of the principal. Many online legal websites charge for these forms, but Rhode Island has made one available for free.

How to Become an Organ Donor in Rhode Island

To designate yourself as an organ donor, register with New England Donor Services or call 1-800-446-6362. 

Essential Rhode Island Legal & Estate Planning Laws, Documents, and Forms 

Rhode Island Probate Laws and Process

Probate is an umbrella term for the legal process of settling the estate of a deceased person (the "decedent") with or without a will. Property that passes directly to the new owner by the right of survivorship, trusts, or payable-on-death beneficiary arrangements are not subject to probate procedures and are called non-probate property. 

In Rhode Island, much of the probate process takes place outside of court as the executor inventories the estate, determines heirs, and settles the debts before releasing funds or property to heirs. The court’s primary roles are to give the executor or personal representative authority to act via an order of appointment and to settle any disputes that arise.

An estate must be open for at least six months, and forms may be found online at the Rhode Island Department of State and the full probate code is available here

What if I only have a small estate?

Estates consisting of no real estate and probate property valued at $15,000 or less qualify for a simplified procedure called voluntary informal administration of small estates. Read the complete statute in Rhode Island Title 33 here.

Rhode Island Trust Laws

There are two types of trusts: living trusts and trusts created by a will upon death. Laws governing both types of trusts can be found in Rhode Island state statute..

Living Trust

A living trust (or inter vivos trust) is a trust that you make while you are alive. Beneficiaries of the trust receive the trust assets upon your death, or at another time determined by the terms of the trust. Property in the trust will be considered non-probate, and will be disposed of according to the terms of the trust rather than by will or probate law.

Testamentary Trust

Trusts can be created by a will upon the death of the Settlor (the person who funds the trust). 

The will directs assets into the trust, and the trust acts as a vessel for holding the assets until they are distributed to beneficiaries. Trusts are commonly used to hold money for children or for disabled people.

Read more about the biggest differences between a will and a trust, and why you might want to avoid Rhode Island’s probate requirements when planning your estate.

How do I set up a will in Rhode Island?

The basic requirements to create a valid will in Rhode Island are:

  • The testator must be 18 years of older;
  • Of sane mind;
  • The will must be signed in front of two or more witnesses;
  • The witnesses must sign or attest or sign the will in the presence of the testator

Oral and holographic (handwritten) will are only recognized when the testator is a soldier or airman actually in military service or a mariner at sea. 

Read the complete set of Rhode Island rules regarding the execution of wills.

Does Rhode Island have laws about my digital estate?

Rhode Island repealed its former law that permitted personal representatives access to a decedent’s electronic mail.  Rhode Island authorized the use of remote notarization during the COVID-19 pandemic, but this is expected to be a temporary change

Will I have to pay estate or inheritance taxes?

Three types of taxes may be involved when dealing with the estate of a deceased person: 

  1. Taxes on the transfer of the assets to beneficiaries (estate tax)
  2. Taxes on income created by assets of the decedent’s estate (income tax). 
  3. Final taxes on the income of the decedent up to the date of death (final return)

For information about filing these returns, review the IRS publications for filing final returns and for filing estate income taxes.

Both federal and Rhode Island estate taxes apply only to high-value estates and will be inapplicable to the average person. For the 2021 tax year, the federal threshold is $11,700,000 and the Rhode Island threshold is $1,595,156.

Learn more about how to pay taxes after you receive an inheritance.

Everything You Need to Know About Estate Planning in Rhode Island

Rhode Island has a number of unique state laws when it comes to your medical records, inheritance taxes, wills, trusts, and estate planning. Navigate the strict probate process and lax estate tax with confidence with your customized (and organized!) Pillar account. You can scan, store, and share your most important state documents when you need them with Pillar's secure and easy-to-use online storage tool for you and your family.

Start your free 14-day trial today and see if Pillar is right for you.