A last will and testament is an important step in planning the distribution of your estate (real and personal property) upon your death. Wyoming wills permit the testator, the person writing the will, to provide for a spouse, children, other loved ones, and pets after his death as well as to name a personal representative for the estate.
Not to be confused with a will, a Wyoming living will, or advance directive, provides instructions should you become incapacitated and incapable of making decisions regarding your medical care.
Do You Need a Last Will and Testament?
Although a last will and testament is not legally required, without a will, state laws (called laws of intestacy) will determine the distribution of the deceased’s assets. The outcome may not coincide with the decedent's (the person who passed away) wishes, however, which means it is generally advisable to create a last will and testament.
In addition to providing the opportunity to direct asset distribution, a Wyoming last will and testament also allows the testator to make a charitable gift, create a trust for any person, name a legal guardian for minor children, or create a “pet trust” in order to provide for the care of an animal after its owner’s death.
Before the terms of a will can be accepted, the will must be proven in probate court. Probate is the court-supervised process of distributing the estate of a deceased person.
Once the will is proven, the executor can proceed to wrap up the estate, which includes collecting and protecting property, paying off debts, and then distributing assets.
Wyoming offers two options for small estates worth $200,000 or less:
(1) Claiming property through an affidavit, which skips probate proceedings altogether; or
(2) Filing a written request with the court to use a simplified small estate process.
Intestacy: Dying Without a Will
Someone who dies without a will is called “intestate,” which invokes the strict laws of intestacy. In Wyoming in the absence of a will, a surviving spouse inherits the entire estate unless the decedent and surviving spouse have descendants, in which case the spouse and descendants each inherit half.
If there is no surviving spouse, descendants, or parents, other relatives, including siblings and grandparents, will inherit depending on the closeness of the relation.
Exceptions to Ability to Distribute Property
Not all property can be distributed according to a will. Some exceptions include the following:
- Property owned in joint tenancy with right of survivorship
- Life insurance policy and retirement account proceeds
- Elective share of surviving spouse in certain conditions
Form a Last Will in Wyoming
The basic requirements for a Wyoming last will and testament include the following:
- Age: The testator must be “of legal age.”
- Capacity: The testator must be of sound mind.
- Signature: The will must be signed by the testator or by someone else in the testator’s name in his presence, by his express direction.
- Witnesses: A Wyoming will must be signed by at least two witnesses, who should not also be beneficiaries in the will.
- Writing: A Wyoming will must be in writing.
- Beneficiaries: A testator can leave property to anyone.
Other Recognized Wills in Wyoming
Wyoming recognizes holographic (handwritten) wills so long as the document is entirely in the handwriting of the testator and signed by the hand of the testator himself. A Wyoming holographic will does not need to be witnessed.
Changing a Wyoming Last Will and Testament
A Wyoming will may be changed at any time by codicil, an amendment to the will, which must be executed in the same way as a will.
Revoking a Wyoming Last Will and Testament
The revocation of a Wyoming will can be accomplished by executing a subsequent will or by the will's “being burned, torn, cancelled, obliterated, or destroyed” by either the testator or by someone else at his direction in his presence.
Note that in Wyoming, if the testator gets divorced or has his marriage annulled after executing a will, certain provisions in favor of the ex-spouse are revoked.