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According to a report published by the Judicial Brand of Wyoming based on data for the 2023 fiscal year, 13% of the cases handled by the District Courts were probate cases. The District Court for the City of Cheyenne recorded the most probate cases at 263, while the City of Lusk registered the least number with only 14 cases. 

A case worth looking into is that of Michael Lee Schlegel’s estate. Michael unexpectedly passed away while his divorce from his wife, Charlene Ann Schlegel, had not yet been finalized. By law, Charlene remained his legal spouse at the time of his death, making her entitled to 50% of Michael’s estate. 

It was believed that Michael intended for his whole estate to go to his son. However, there was no valid will to be found or estate planning device set up to make it happen. Charlene, on the other hand, seemed to know exactly what her inheritance rights were and promptly filed for their divorce to be dismissed, securing her 50% share. 

Everybody passes away eventually. This is why it is important to understand the basic concepts of probate (or avoiding it) and inheritance laws in Wyoming. This article aims to provide these details, so you at least know your rights as an heir or will beneficiary and understand the initial steps to take regarding a departed loved one’s estate. 

What Happens if Someone Dies With a Will in Wyoming?

An individual who passes away with a will is referred to as a “testate.” The people named in the will who will benefit from the estate are called “distributees.” In Wyoming, testate estates need to go through the probate process before the distributees receive their inheritance. But a will has to be considered valid.

For a will to be legally valid and enforceable in Wyoming, it must meet the following minimum requirements:

  • The person making the will (the testator) must be at least 18 years old and mentally competent. (Wyoming Statutes Section 2-6-101)

  • The will should be in writing or typewritten and signed by the testator. (Wyoming Statutes Section 2-6-112

  • The testator’s signing of the will should be witnessed by two individuals. It can be witnessed in person or via audio-video communication, as long as the communication method allows witnesses to judge if the testator is competent and is signing the will voluntarily. The two witnesses must also sign the will. 

Someone else can prepare the document on the testator’s behalf, for example, an estate planning or probate attorney

Some testators go the extra mile to make sure their will is uncontestable by making it self-proving. A self-proving will is one that was signed and witnessed in the presence of a notary. The notary issues an affidavit proving the will’s validity.

Wyoming accepts unwitnessed wills if they are holographic. A holographic will is entirely handwritten and signed by the testator. 

Wills are required to be on paper per Section 2-6-112, so electronic wills are not accepted. However, the same section allows witnesses to electronically sign the document, which should then be printed out to satisfy the aforementioned requirement. 

Probate Process for Testate Estates

The will must be filed in court to kickstart the probate process. The rules governing probate are contained in Wyoming Statutes Article 2. Generally, probate follows the steps below:

  1. Filing of the will - The will must be filed with the District Court of the county of the decedent's residence or where the decedent owned property at the time of passing. Whoever has the will must deliver it to the person identified as the executor in the will or to the District Court clerk within 10 days of knowing of the decedent’s death. 

  2. Petitioning for probate - The executor must file a probate petition within 30 days of being notified of the death.  

  3. Court appointment of the Personal Representative - The court will appoint the executor as the PR and issue the Letters Testamentary to them. This officially starts the probate process. If there is no executor named in the will, the court will appoint an individual to serve as PR, usually one of the will beneficiaries. 

  4. Notification to will distributees, family members, and creditors - The PR must send notice of the decedent’s death. A public notice will also be published in newspapers. Creditors must file claims for payments within three months of the newspaper notice’s publication. 

  5. Inventory and appraisal of the decedent’s estate - The Letters Testamentary allows the PR to find and collect the decedent's assets, such as bank accounts, real estate property, cars, and stocks. The assets will be inventoried and appraised for value. The full inventory should be submitted by the PR to the court within 120 days of their appointment. 

  6. Payment of decedent’s debts and last expenses, taxes, and estate administration costs - The PR will arrange payments for these using estate funds. 

  7. Distribution of assets to distributees - Whatever remains of the estate after all the decedent's debts and obligations are paid will be distributed to the beneficiaries following the will. 

  8. Closing of the decedent’s estate - The PR submits a final accounting of the estate to the court. The estate is closed once the accounting is approved.

Non-probate Assets

There are estates and assets that do not have to go through probate to have ownership transferred. In Wyoming, an estate only needs to undergo probate if its value is $200,000 and up. Estates with lesser value and that do not include real estate property can be transferred to beneficiaries using an affidavit of distribution. 

There are ways to avoid probate, such as by transferring assets into a trust. This way, the assets are owned by the trust, not the decedent. The trust/trustee can manage how the assets will be distributed without the need for probate. An estate planning attorney can help set up a trust, so your surviving loved ones will not have to go through probate when you pass away. 

Assets that have designated beneficiaries, such as life insurance policies and Payable on Death or Transfer on Death designations, do not need to be probated. They are automatically transferred to a beneficiary specified by the decedent. Some individuals choose to use these alternative methods of transfer not just to avoid probate in the future but also for privacy. Probate matters are public records in Wyoming. 

Contesting a Will

Any interested party may file a contest after the will has been filed in court. An interested party is someone who stands to benefit financially. They may be beneficiaries of the current will or another will, or the decedent’s heirs who would have inherited if there was no valid will. The will contest must be filed within three months of the probate notice being published. 

In Wyoming, the grounds for contesting a will may include: 

  • The testator was not mentally competent when the will was made. For example, the testator had dementia and did not understand the contents of the will. 

  • The testator was under somebody else’s undue influence. For example, a family member was influencing the testator to make a new will, invalidating an existing will. 

  • The will was improperly executed. For example, the will had no witnesses. 

  • Fraud is involved in the will’s creation. For example, the testator’s signature was forged, or a family member told lies to convince the testator to disinherit another family member. 

  • A newer version of the will is discovered. 

What Happens if Someone Dies Without a Will in Wyoming?

When a person dies without a will, they are called “intestate.” An intestate estate in Wyoming also goes through the probate process. Anyone who is competent and a legal heir may serve as the decedent’s Personal Representative in this order of preference: spouse, adult child, parent, or sibling. More than one person may be appointed as PR. 

Similar to testate probate, the petition for probate must be filed, notices sent and published, the decedent’s debts and administrative expenses must be paid off, and so on. However, what remains of the intestate estate is distributed to beneficiaries according to the state’s intestate succession laws (Wyoming Statutes Sections 2-4-101 to 108)

People who inherit from an intestate estate through Wyoming's laws are called 'heirs.' These intestate succession laws prioritize shares of the estate to the decedent's closest relatives. The amount each heir inherits depends on their relationship to the decedent and how many other heirs there are.

See below the general rules of inheritance: 

Surviving Relative/s

Inheritance Share

Spouse, no children 

Spouse inherits 100% of estate

Spouse, children, and grandchildren

Spouse gets 50% of the estate, while the other 50% goes to the children. This includes the decedent’s children with an ex-spouse

If a child has passed away, that child’s share is passed on to the decedent’s living grandchildren from that child. 

Children, no spouse

Children inherit 100% of the estate. 

Like above, if a child has passed away, that child’s children will inherit their share. 

The decedent’s parents, no spouse, children, grandchildren, or siblings 

Parents inherit the estate, split equally. 

The decedent’s parents and siblings; no spouse, children, or grandchildren 

Parents and siblings inherit the estate. 

If a sibling has passed away, their share goes to the sibling’s children (decedent’s nieces or nephews).

The decedent’s siblings, no spouse, parents, children, or grandchildren

Siblings inherit 100% of the estate.

If a sibling has passed away, their share goes to the sibling’s children (decedent’s nieces or nephews).

Spousal Rights

In Wyoming, surviving spouses have the right to claim an elective share of the decedent's estate. This usually applies when a decedent left a will that disinherits their surviving spouse. The surviving spouse can take their elective share from the decedent’s estate, which is 50%, or 25% if the decedent has surviving children who are not from the surviving spouse. 

The surviving spouse must claim their elective share within three months of the will being admitted to probate. The spouse can also choose to waive their right to the elective share, partially or wholly. 

In addition to an elective share, state laws entitle surviving spouses to exempt property, homestead allowance, and family allowance. If the spouse chooses to take their elective share as well as these three entitlements, these shall be subtracted from their elective share. 

The homestead allowance helps protect the surviving family from financial hardship or losing their home. This allowance includes the family home, household furniture, and clothing up to the value of $30,000

Remember that during probate, the decedent’s debts and administration expenses are paid off first before the heirs can receive their inheritance. Homestead allowance, exempt property, and family allowance cannot be used to pay off the decedent’s debts, except for funeral and administration expenses, and only if the estate does not have enough funds to cover these costs. 

Children’s Rights

In Wyoming, the general rule for children's inheritance is that if the decedent legally recognized a child as their own, whether biological or adopted, that child has the right to inherit. However, there are situations like blended families where the parent-child relationship may not be straightforward and may affect a child’s right to inheritance.

See below some examples and the state laws governing them:

Child’s Relationship to Decedent

Inheritance Rights

Stepchild, foster child 

Will not inherit unless the decedent legally adopted the child. (Wyoming Statutes Section 2-4-104)

Adopted child 

Will inherit. 

Legally adopted children have the same inheritance rights as biological children. (Wyoming Statutes Section 2-4-107)

Adopted children can also inherit from the relatives of their adoptive parent/s as if they were their natural relatives. 

Child given up for adoption

May inherit from biological parents. Unlike in other states, children given out for adoption in Wyoming maintain their right to inherit from their biological parent’s estate. 

Posthumous child

Will inherit.

A posthumous child is defined as one who was conceived during the decedent’s lifetime but was born after the decedent's death. (Wyoming Statutes Section 2-4-103)

Child born out of wedlock

Will inherit as long as paternity is established or the child was recognized by the decedent before death. (Wyoming Statutes Section 2-4-107 (iii)

The Rights of Other Surviving Relatives

If the decedent has no living close relatives (spouse, children, grandchildren, parents, siblings, nephews, and nieces), the intestate succession line continues to the decedent’s other relatives. Next in line to inherit are the decedent’s living grandparents. If there are no grandparents, then the decedent’s uncles and aunts will inherit the estate. If there are no living grandparents, uncles, and aunts, the inheritance is passed on to their descendants (children, grandchildren, and so on).

Estates With No Heirs

In the rare event that no heirs can be located for an intestate estate, the estate will escheat (be forfeited) to the state of Wyoming.  

Sometimes, a person who is a possible heir to a forfeited estate is discovered or shows up. The state gives these people a chance to reclaim an escheated property through Wyoming Statutes Section 9-5-203. The treasurer puts the estate on hold for five years after the forfeiture, during which any potential heir can file a claim to recover the estate. 

Unique Situations in Wyoming Inheritance Law

Inheritance laws are continuously updated to accommodate unique situations, such as the posthumous conception of a child via artificial reproduction. Below are some circumstances for which Wyoming already has laws: 

Posthumously Conceived Children

Under Wyoming law, children conceived after the decedent's death through artificial reproduction using the decedent's genetic material are not considered heirs, unless the decedent gave written consent to be the parent of such posthumously conceived children.

Half-Blood Relatives

Wyoming law gives half-blood relatives the same rights to inheritance as full-blood relatives. Take, for example, a decedent who died without a living spouse, descendants, or parents, but has one sister and one half-brother. Both the full-blood sister and half-blood brother are entitled to inherit the decedent’s estate and will get equal shares.

Slayer Rule

The state’s “slayer rule” prohibits anyone who feloniously causes the decedent's death from inheriting any portion of the decedent's estate. Any inheritance that the slayer is entitled to via the decedent’s will or intestate succession laws is essentially forfeited and redistributed among the remaining beneficiaries. The slayer also forfeits any rights to non-probate assets, including assets with POD or TOD designations and property they held in a joint tenancy or co-ownership with the decedent.

Does Wyoming Impose Inheritance and Estate Taxes?

Estate taxes are collected on assets a person leaves behind when they die. The amount required is based on the value of the whole estate. Estate taxes can be imposed at the state and/or federal level. In the case of Wyoming, it does not require estate taxes. 

At the federal level, estate taxes only need to be paid if the estate’s value is over $12.92 million in 2023 and $13.610 million in 2024. So if your loved one passed away in 2023 and left an estate worth $14 million, estate tax needs to be paid on $1.08 million of the estate. If any estate tax needs to be paid to the IRS, the payment should come from estate funds.

Inheritance taxes are individually paid by the beneficiaries based on how much they have inherited. Luckily for Wyoming residents, the state also does not impose inheritance taxes. However, if a Wyoming resident inherits property located in a state that imposes inheritance or estate taxes, the inheritor may be required to pay those taxes on the out-of-state property. 

Legal Resources Related to Inheritance Law in Wyoming

The administration of a departed loved one’s estate can be confusing, particularly when it comes to the legal procedures you need to follow. The resources below can provide you with further information and legal assistance regarding inheritance in Wyoming. It is always recommended to also consult a local probate attorney

Legal Aid of Wyoming

Legal Aid of Wyoming provides legal representation for low-income residents. The federally funded law firm handles civil matters, including end-of-life planning, wills, and estates. You can call their hotline at 1-877-432-9955 for assistance. You can also apply for legal aid online.

Wyoming Free Legal Answers

The virtual legal clinic takes in legal questions and provides answers from licensed pro-bono attorneys. This online resource primarily caters to low-income individuals. You must register to be able to submit questions and have access to the lawyers. 

Modest Means Program

This program bridges the gap for Wyoming residents whose income is not low enough to be eligible for legal aid but also not high enough to afford full-price legal services. The program connects residents with attorneys that charge reduced rates (maximum $75 per hour, maximum  $500 retainer). Wyomingites can fill out MMP’s Client Application page.

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