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The Rhode Island Supreme Court recently decided a case involving an extended Rhode Island probate dispute. According to the court’s opinion, in 2005, the plaintiff was involved in a dispute over the designation of guardianship of her aunt before her aunt passed away. After the plaintiff’s aunt passed, the dispute was over the administration of her estate.

The court named the plaintiff as administratrix of the estate and imposed a corporate surety bond as a condition of the plaintiff becoming administratrix of the estate. The plaintiff also filed for sanctions against opposing counsel. The probate court denied the plaintiff’s motion for sanctions against opposing counsel and her motion to waive the surety bond. In 2012, the plaintiff requested the superior court to authorize another family member to “stand as surety for [the plaintiff’s] conduct as administratrix” and to eliminate the requirement of the surety bond. She also appealed the probate court’s refusal to sanction opposing counsel for “bringing a frivolous guardianship proceeding” before her aunt passed away. The court declined to sanction opposing counsel and also held that the corporate surety was “absolutely necessary” in this case.

A surety bond in a probate case is a means of ensuring that the executor will not commit any wrongdoing. The insurer agrees to compensate the beneficiaries for any money lost if the executor makes a mistake (intentionally or unintentionally) in settling the estate. Section 33-17-1.2 of Rhode Island General Laws provides the circumstances under which a surety bond can and should be imposed. Section 33-17-1.2 allows the probate court to use its discretion in determining whether a corporate surety is required, and it provides numerous factors to consider. Under the current version of the statute, a court can consider facts such as the total number of heirs, the relationship between the heirs, the extent of conflicts between the heirs and over the estate, and the total size and monetary value of the estate. In this case, the court decided that the plaintiff failed to show that her surety or that of her family member was sufficient.

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One of the most fundamental rights of Rhode Island property ownership is the ability to exclude trespassers from your property. However, if a landowner is not careful, continuous trespassers may be able to claim an ownership right in the property if they can meet the elements of a Rhode Island adverse possession claim. The adverse possession doctrine is sometimes referred to as “squatter’s rights.”

At its most basic, adverse possession is a legal doctrine that allows a person to acquire an ownership right in another’s property. The idea behind the doctrine is that the government wants to encourage landowners to put the property to use. Thus, if a property owner “sleeps on their rights” while another puts the property to use, then the user of the property can gain a property right in the area that is possessed. Common examples of adverse possession include use of an abandoned road or farming on vacant land.

In Rhode Island, a person seeking to adversely possess property must be able to meet each of the elements of a Rhode Island adverse possession claim for the statutory period of ten years. Courts in Rhode Island have held that, to establish a claim of adverse possession, a possessor of land must establish that their possession has been “actual, open, notorious, hostile, continuous, exclusive, and under a claim of right.” Below is a brief explanation of each element:

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The laws and regulations that apply to subdivisions of land vary by the locality and the specifications of the property, making some Rhode Island real estate disputes quite complex. The high court in neighboring Massachusetts confronted these complexities when it decided a case involving the subdivision of land that took place in 1964.

Evidently, in 1964, a lot was divided into two separate lots without having the plan presented to the local planning board. Later, the owner of one of the lots applied for a permit to build a house on the lot. The building inspector denied the permit. The plaintiff brought the case to the planning board, which determined that the division of the lot was not in compliance with the subdivision control law. On appeal before the state’s supreme judicial court, the court considered whether the division was considered a subdivision according to the subdivision control law and the local zoning ordinance, and if it was not, whether it still had to be approved by the planning board.

The state’s supreme judicial court reversed the lower court’s decision. The court decided that the division did not require approval from the planning board at the time, and that it met the legal requirements for the division of the land at the time. The subdivision control law stated that a subdivision could not be made unless it was first approved by the local planning board. However, certain divisions of land were excluded from the meaning of “subdivision.” For example, a division was excluded if each new lot had sufficient frontage on a public way to satisfy the applicable local zoning ordinance.

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In May 2019, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Rhode Island real estate case discussing the plaintiff’s claim that a tax levied against the plaintiff’s property was illegal. However, the court determined that the tax was not illegal, but technically an “overassessment,” and that the plaintiff failed to timely file a claim. The case goes to show the importance of staying on top of Rhode Island property tax issues and acting quickly when they arise.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was a bank that underwrote a mortgage on two parcels of land. One of the parcels was listed as being located in Providence and the other in Cranston. A few years after the mortgage was written, the city’s tax assessor noticed that the Providence parcel was up for a tax sale. The city sold the parcel on July 9, 2015. On June 2, 2016, the plaintiff filed a claim arguing that the tax assessor illegally assessed the parcel and sought injunctive relief, preventing the city from selling the Providence parcel. The plaintiff’s argument was based on the fact that much of the Providence parcel was actually located in Cranston, depriving the City of Providence of the right to assess a tax on the property.

The assessor argued that the plaintiff’s complaint failed to comply with the procedural requirements for tax relief. Specifically, the assessor argued that the relevant statute required a claim be filed within 90 days from the date the first payment of the tax was due. The plaintiff argued that, in cases of an illegally assessed tax, the typical procedural requirements do not apply and that its claim was timely.

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Last month, the state’s high court issued an opinion in a Rhode Island family law case discussing a marital settlement agreement and whether Husband was entitled to visitation with two dogs. While at first glance the case may seem narrowly focused, it provides valuable insight regarding Rhode Island marital settlement agreements and how courts interpret and enforce these documents.

According to the court’s opinion, Husband and Wife filed for divorce after 26 years of marriage. At the time the court entered an order dissolving the marriage, it incorporated a marriage settlement agreement (the “agreement”) that the parties had agreed upon. Among other things, the marriage settlement agreement provided that Wife would retain sole ownership of the former couple’s two dogs. The agreement also stated that Husband was permitted to take the dogs for visits from Tuesday morning through Thursday morning.

For about six months, Husband was able to visit the dogs under the terms of the agreement. However, Wife eventually stopped allowing Husband to visit the dogs. Husband requested the court step in to enforce the terms of the marriage settlement agreement, asking the court to order Wife to allow his visits and provide for make-up visits. Wife responded with her own request to the court, claiming that she should not need to comply with the agreement because Husband was not properly caring for the dogs and had attempted to keep them away from her, in violation of the agreement.

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Buying a home is a big decision. Whether it be a modest first-time home or a multi-unit investment property, home buyers should take every precaution before the purchase of any Rhode Island real estate. One of the most important things that prospective home buyers can do before beginning their search is to understand the roles of all the parties involved in the Rhode Island home-buying process.

Most Rhode Island real estate transactions involve at least one real estate agent, but most involve both a listing agent and a buyer’s agent. When someone plans to put their home up for sale, they may contact a listing agent. The listing agent handles the marketing of the home and will negotiate with prospective buyers. Those who are looking to buy a home may contact a buyer’s agent. A buyer’s agent finds properties for sale that match the buyer’s specifications. A buyer’s agent will also negotiate on behalf of their client and, importantly, will often draft legal documents such as an Offer to Purchase or a Purchase and Sale Agreement.

Home buyers should contact a Rhode Island real estate attorney to review all legal documents that are drafted by real estate agents. While real estate agents may seem to know what they are doing when it comes to a real estate transaction, real estate agents are not attorneys and do not have any formal legal training.

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For most people, their home is their most valuable asset. However, when circumstances unexpectedly change, many people find that it is challenging to keep up with a mortgage, utilities, and the other expenses of maintaining a home. If a mortgage goes unpaid, the lending financial institution will eventually initiate Rhode Island foreclosure proceedings.

A foreclosure is when a lender forces the sale of a property to cover the remaining balance of the loan. Typically, a lender will foreclose on a property if there is a significant history of non-payment. While the length of time that a lender will wait to initiate foreclosure proceedings can vary, it is common for a foreclosure to begin within six months of the first missed payment. This is not to say that a single missed payment will result in a foreclosure; most lenders understand that a homeowner may be facing a short-term financial hardship that they will be able to recover from if given the opportunity.

While the foreclosure process can be frightening, there are certain actions homeowners can take to prevent a foreclosure. It is important for Rhode Island homeowners to understand that the foreclosure process must follow strict guidelines, and a lender cannot suddenly foreclose on a home.

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The purpose of car insurance is to provide a way for accident victims to receive compensation for the injuries they sustain in a Rhode Island car accident. Indeed, without the existence of insurance, Rhode Island car accident victims would not be able to recover adequate compensation for their injuries unless the at-fault party happened to have sufficient assets to cover the expenses.

Despite the requirement that all drivers maintain insurance on their vehicles, the reality is that in many Rhode Island car accidents, the victim’s injuries far exceed the policy maximum of the at-fault driver’s insurance policy. In these situations, an accident victim can obtain underinsured/uninsured motorist (UIM) benefits under their own policy.

Under Rhode Island law, all insurance companies must offer UIM insurance when they write a policy. Additionally, all motorists must obtain a certain level of UIM insurance. Only in situations where a motorist obtains the minimum amount of liability insurance can they entirely waive UIM coverage.

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Few things are more exciting–and more stressful–than a first-time home purchase. For some, this process signifies the transition to adulthood and for others a fresh start. Any way you look at it, a Rhode Island first-time home purchase is an important decision, and one that will have lasting repercussions.

The home-buying process is not intuitive for many first-time home buyers. However, although the process is complex, it is governed by traditional principles of contract law. In fact, throughout the home-buying process, a buyer will typically sign several contracts, each playing an important role in the process. The peace of mind that an attorney can provide in the purchase of a Rhode Island home is invaluable.

A Rhode Island real estate transaction begins with an offer to purchase. Typically, an offer to purchase is drafted by a real estate broker, signed by the prospective buyers, and presented to the seller’s agent. Once the offer to purchase is in the hands of the seller, the seller has a certain amount of time to respond before the prospective buyer’s offer lapses. Often, the seller will return with a counteroffer.

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It’s that time of year – the time for beautiful weddings, fun receptions, delicious cakes, special gifts, and romantic honeymoons.  While this is a joyous time for everyone, it’s also time for you and your new spouse to plan for your future – for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health.

Why Newlyweds Need to Plan Their Estates

Why should newlyweds care about estate planning?  Because everyone – young or old, married or single – needs to protect themselves and those they love.

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