If you die without a will in Wyoming, your assets will go to your closest relatives under state "intestate succession" laws. Here are some details about how intestate succession works in Wyoming.
Which Assets Pass by Intestate Succession
Only assets that would have passed through your will are affected by intestate succession laws. Usually, that includes only assets that you own alone, in your own name.
Many valuable assets don't go through your will and aren't affected by intestate succession laws. Here are some examples:
- property you've transferred to a living trust
- life insurance proceeds
- funds in an IRA, 401(k), or other retirement account
- securities held in a transfer-on-death account
- payable-on-death bank accounts, or
- property you own with someone else in joint tenancy or tenancy by the entirety.
These assets will pass to the surviving co-owner or to the beneficiary you named, whether or not you have a will.
To learn more about these types of assets, go to the How to Avoid Probate section of Nolo.com or read about Avoiding Probate in Wyoming.
Who Gets What in Wyoming?
Under intestate succession, who gets what depends on whether or not you have living children, parents, or other close relatives when you die. Here's a quick overview:
If you die with:
here's what happens:
- children inherit everything
- spouse but no descendants
- spouse inherits everything
- spouse inherits 1/2 of intestate property
- descendants inherit 1/2 of intestate property
- parents and/or siblings but no spouse or descendants
- parents and siblings inherit intestate property in equal shares
The Spouse's Share in Wyoming
In Wyoming, if you are married and you die without a will, what your spouse gets depends on whether or not you have living descendants -- children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren. If you don't, then your spouse inherits all of your intestate property. If you do, your spouse inherits one half of your intestate property and your descendants inherit the other half.
Example: Bill is married to Karen, and they have three grown children. Bill and Karen own a house in joint tenancy, and Karen is also the named beneficiary of Bill's retirement account. When Bill dies, Karen automatically inherits the house and any remaining retirement funds; those things are not intestate property. Bill also owns $300,000 worth of other property that would have passed under a will, so Karen inherits 1/2 -- that is, $150,000 worth -- of that property. The three children split the remaining $150,000 worth of Bill's intestate property.
Children's Shares in Wyoming
If you die without a will in Wyoming, your children will receive an "intestate share" of your property. The size of each child's share depends on how many children you have and whether or not you are married. (See the table above.)
For children to inherit from you under the laws of intestacy, Wyoming must consider them your children, legally. For many families, this is not a confusing issue. But it's not always clear. Here are some things to keep in mind.
- Adopted children. Children you legally adopted will receive an intestate share, just as your biological children do. (Wyoming Statutes § 2-4-107.)
- Foster children and stepchildren. Foster children and stepchildren you never legally adopted will not automatically receive a share. (Wyoming Statutes § 2-4-104.)
- Children placed for adoption. In Wyoming, children you placed for adoption and who were legally adopted by another family are entitled to an intestate share of your estate. (Wyoming Statutes § 2-4-107.)
- Posthumous children. Children conceived by you but not born before your death will receive a share. (Wyoming Statutes § 2-4-103.)
- Children born outside of marriage. If you were not married to your children's mother when she gave birth to them, they will receive a share of your estate if your paternity is established under Wyoming law. (Wyoming Statutes § 2-4-107.)
- Grandchildren. A grandchild will receive a share only if that grandchild's parent (your son or daughter) is not alive to receive his or her share. (Wyoming Statutes § 2-4-101.)
This can be a tricky area of the law, so if you have questions about your relationship to your parent or child, get help from an experienced attorney. If you want to read the laws yourself, you'll find a link to the Wyoming Statutes at the end of this article.
Will the State Get Your Property?
If you die without a will and don't have any family, your property will "escheat" into the state's coffers. However, this very rarely happens because the laws are designed to get your property to anyone who was even remotely related to you. For example, your property won't go to the state if you leave a spouse, children, grandchildren, parents, grandparents, siblings, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, or cousins.
Other Wyoming Intestate Succession Rules
Here are a few other things to know about Wyoming's intestacy laws.
- Half-relatives. "Half" relatives inherit as if they were "whole." That is, your sister with whom you share a father, but not a mother, has the same right to your property as she would if you had both parents in common. (Wyoming Statutes § 2-4-104.)
- Posthumous relatives. Relatives conceived before -- but born after -- you die inherit as if they had been born while you were alive. (Wyoming Statutes § 2-4-103.)
- Immigration status. Relatives entitled to an intestate share of your property will inherit whether or not they are citizens or legally in the United States, except that a resident alien cannot inherit real estate if the laws of the resident alien's home country do not allow U.S. citizens to inherit real estate. (Wyoming Statutes § 2-4-105.)
- "Killer" rule. Someone who feloniously kills you will not receive a share of your property. (Wyoming Statutes § 2-14-101.)
- Advancements. If you gave property to a relative during your lifetime, the value of this property is subtracted from your relative's share only if you wrote this down at the time of making the gift or if your relative admits this in writing. (Wyoming Statutes § 2-4-108.)