Ruling Request No. 2012-02

Ruling Request No. 2012-02

Request for Ruling Regarding the Application of the Marital Deduction for the Estate of B as Provided by R.I.G.L. § 42-35-8

In accordance with the provisions of R.I.G.L. § 42-35-8, you request a ruling on behalf of A, individually, and in her capacity as executor of the will of B regarding the application of the marital deduction for the Estate of B (R.I.G.L § 42-35-8).


The facts set forth herein are taken from the statement of facts presented in the request for ruling dated August 16, 2012.

B (decedent) died in March 2012, survived by her spouse, A.  The decedent and A were a same-sex couple married in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in February 2007.  Pursuant to the decedent’s will dated October 2011, all of decedent’s assets pass outright to A.  The decedent and A also owned assets jointly with right of survivorship and A was the designated beneficiary of most of B’s life insurance and retirement assets.

Ruling requested

Surviving spouse, A, requests that pursuant to R.I.G.L. § 44-22-1(e), the value of property passing from the decedent to A as her surviving spouse be deducted from the decedent’s estate and exempted as a marital deduction from the estate tax imposed by R.I.G.L. § 44-22-1(a) and that joint property passing to A as the decedent’s surviving spouse be treated as owned one-half by the decedent.


Rhode Island’s estate tax laws are contained in Chapter 22, Title 44 of the Rhode Island General Laws, as amended.  Specifically, § 44-22-1(e) provides for an estate tax marital deduction as defined in federal law. 

Section 44-22-1(e) states, “…there is deducted from the estate and exempted from the estate tax a marital deduction, as defined in 26 U.S.C. § 2056…, from property or beneficial interests which pass or have passed from the decedent to the surviving spouse, but only to the extent that the interests are included in determining the value of the gross estate.”  The reference to federal law in this section relates to the computational aspect of the federal tax code and not the definition of who is a spouse, which has been defined in Rhode Island law.

The Civil Unions Act, which took effect on July 1, 2011, provides that a party to a civil union shall be included in any definition or term that denotes the spousal relationship as those terms are used throughout Rhode Island law, whether or not the terms are gender specific.1§ 15-3.1-6 of the Act further states that parties to a civil union shall have all the rights, benefits, protections and responsibilities under the law as people joined together in a lawful marriage in the State of Rhode Island. 

Governor Chafee’s Executive Order 12-02, issued in May 2012, provides that terms relating to a spousal or familial relationship are to be construed in a manner that encompasses lawful marriages of same-sex couples.  The Executive Order reinforces Rhode Island’s longstanding rule of recognizing marriages validly performed in other jurisdictions and further provides that where multiple constructions of statutory provisions are possible, state agencies shall adopt the interpretation that favors recognition of the marriages of same-sex couples. 2

Under the Civil Unions Act, the use of the term “spouse” in §44-22-1(e), requires that civil union partners be afforded the opportunity to benefit from the Rhode Island marital deduction to the same extent a husband and wife could.  Further, Executive Order 12-02 provides that the term spouse shall be construed to include lawful same-sex marriages and Rhode Island has a long history of recognizing valid marriages from other jurisdictions.  These considerations all warrant the allowance of Rhode Island’s marital deduction for same-sex spouses.


A Rhode Island marital deduction is allowable for property passing from a decedent to his/her same-sex surviving spouse to the same extent that property left to a surviving husband or wife is allowable as a marital deduction provided that the requirements of IRC § 2056 are met.  Same-sex spouses are allowed to include in the gross estate of a decedent one-half the value of certain joint property interests in the same manner that a husband and wife are permitted this treatment under Rhode Island law, provided the interest in property meets the requirements of IRC § 2040(b)(2).

This ruling may be relied upon by the Estate of B and shall be valid until expressly revoked or until the applicable statutory provisions of law are amended in a manner that requires a different result or the underlying facts described herein change.

David M. Sullivan

Tax Administrator

September 21, 2012

1R.I.G.L. § 15-3.1-7.

2See Ex Parte Chace, 59 A. 978 (R.I. 1904).