When someone you love passes away the last thing you want to focus on is going to court and worrying about the legal requirements related to their will and their estate. If you are the personal representative of their estate, that is exactly what you have to do. According to Wyoming law, before title of a decedent’s property can be legally assigned to others, their estate must be managed and settled through a court proceeding referred to as probate or estate administration. In the state of Wyoming, the District Court serves as the probate court. The first step is to file a petition with the Clerk of District Court in the Wyoming county where the deceased person lived. In cases where the decedent had a will, the will must also be filed. The petitioner is required to notify the appropriate family members and other interested persons that the probate process is underway.
The purpose of filing the petition is open the probate case. The court will examine the will for validity and determine whether the petitioner is qualified to perform the executor duties and responsibilities. Once the court approves the petition and formally appoints the personal representative (sometimes referred to as the executor), they are charged with taking the steps legally necessary to wind down the decedent’s estate. This is referred to estate administration and includes collecting the decedent’s property, inventorying it, and appraising it. The inventory will include all probate property including the decedent’s real estate, personal property, and financial accounts. The inventory and appraisal must be file with the court.
Creditors must demand payment within a timeframe that is determined by when the notice was served or published. The personal representative is required to pay the estate’s timely filed, valid debts to the extent there is money in the estate available to pay them. Once debts, taxes, and fees related to administration are paid, the personal representative must file a report and final accounting with the court. Then, they can distribute any remaining assets according to the terms of the will.
In Wyoming the administration process can take up to a year. The timeframe depends on factors such as the size of the estate, the type of assets, the number of beneficiaries, and whether complications such as probate disputes develop along the way.
If your loved one died without a will, or if the will is invalidated during a will contest, the decedent will be deemed intestate. An intestate estate must still go through an administration process. The main differences are that because there would be no will to guide the process, Wyoming law will dictate who is eligible for appointment as personal representative and who may inherit. The applicable law is called the intestate succession law. Wy. Stat. § 2-4-101.
Under the law, the surviving spouse or someone named by the surviving spouse is first in priority to serve as personal representative. In the absence of a surviving spouse, the next in line are the children followed by the decedent’s parents, siblings, and grandchildren.
When it comes to eligibility to inherit, if the decedent has a surviving spouse and children, they are first in line to inherit. Otherwise, the law states that parents, siblings, and other “kin” have the right to inherit in a stated order of priority. If there is a question as to whether a person who comes forward and claims entitlement is actually related to the decedent, a kinship hearing may be necessary to establish relatedness.
Disputes can arise among family members, beneficiaries, and others during the probate process. Some of the common reasons for disputes include challenges over the validity of the will, disagreements over interpreting the terms of the will, disagreements over how the personal representative has managed estate property, disputes over the spouse’s elective share, and disputes over ownership of probate property.
Expedited Process for Small Estates
While in general all property of deceased persons must get court permission before it can be legally transferred to others, not all estates are required to go through the formal probate process. Wyoming offers 2 alternatives to the formal process. However, there alternatives are only available under limited conditions.
Delivery of Tangible Personal Property.
With this option, those who are entitled to property in a decedent’s estate can skip probate and petition the court for immediate delivery of the asset. To make use of this option, the estate must have a value of $200,000 or less. The person seeking delivery of the property must file an affidavit with the court requesting it after the expiration of a 30-day waiting period. Wy. Stat. § 2-1-201. This means that the request for delivery of property cannot be filed until a minimum of 30 days after the decedent’s death. Another requirement is that no personal representative has been appointed and no application for appointment is pending.
Summary Procedure for Distribution of Property.
This option is available only for estates with values of $200,000 or less. There is also 30-day waiting period required for this option. An application for summary distribution can be made by a beneficiary or heir. It must include a description of any property claimed, including mineral rights, and its value, the legal reason the application is claiming a right to the property, and whether any other person has a right to the property.