Probate is the legal process by which a person's final debts are settled and assets distributed to beneficiaries and heirs. Certain assets are not part of what is called the probate estate, which is the collection of assets that pass by will or intestacy. Other assets have predetermined beneficiaries who will receive the asset upon the owner's death. For example, any asset placed in trust can have a designated beneficiary. Additionally, proceeds from life insurance policies, retirement funds and certain bank accounts, called pay-on-death accounts, are distributed to named beneficiaries. Lastly, if any property is owned jointly with one or more other parties, the remaining owners inherit equal shares of the property by right of survivorship.
A will is a legal document that allows you to name beneficiaries to receive the assets in your estate when you die. You are free to choose anyone to inherit. If your will meets the requirements set forth in the Wyoming Code, your estate will be distributed according to your wishes. State laws vary concerning the requirements to make a will, but in Wyoming, you must be at least 18 years old. The document must be in writing and you must sign it, or someone can sign it for you under your direction if you are unable. You must also be competent at the time you write and sign your will. Two witnesses must attest that by signing the will after you. Your witnesses must also be no less than 18 years old and cannot be named as beneficiaries, ensuring impartiality.
Your spouse automatically has a right to inherit even if you leave her out of your will. In Wyoming, this right is called the spousal election. The surviving spouse must submit a petition to the probate court within three months after the will is submitted for probate. If the court finds that the spouse was disinherited in the will, it will award the statutory elective share of one-half of the probate estate. If you have any children who are not also your spouse's children, your spouse's elective share is limited to one-quarter of the probate estate.
Intestate succession laws are in place so your property can still be distributed to your heirs if you die without a will. When you die intestate and are married at the time of death, your surviving spouse is the first eligible heir. If you do not also have children, your spouse inherits your entire estate. If you do have children, your spouse will inherit one-half the estate and your children will share equal portions of the remaining estate. Children take equal shares of the entire estate if a spouse does not survive you. When there are no children, parents, then siblings, will inherit. Lastly, descendants of your heirs, including grandchildren, nieces and nephews or cousins, will inherit if they are your closest living relatives.