The paper illustrates a probabilistic methodology for assessing the vulnerability of existing reinforced concrete (RC) buildings with limited ductility capacity retrofitted by means of dissipative braces. The aim is to highlight the most important parameters controlling the capacity of these coupled systems and specific aspects concerning the response uncertainties. The proposed methodology is based on the use of local engineering demand parameters for monitoring the seismic response and on the development of component and system fragility curves before and after the retrofit. In the first part of the paper, the methodology is illustrated by highlighting its advantages with respect to the existing approaches. Then, its capability and effectiveness are tested by considering a benchmark two-dimensional RC frame designed for gravity-loads only. The frame is retrofitted by introducing elasto-plastic dissipative braces designed for different levels of base shear capacity. The obtained results show the effectiveness of the methodology in describing the changes in the response and in the failure modalities before and after the retrofit, for different retrofit levels. Moreover, the retrofit effectiveness is evaluated by introducing proper synthetic parameters describing the fragility curves and by stressing the importance of employing local engineering demand parameters (EDPs) rather than global EDPs in the seismic risk evaluation of coupled systems consisting in low-ductility RC frames and dissipative braces. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.