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by Shaina Case

The answer to the question of whether you have an estate plan may not be that easy. Approximately 65% of the United States’ population has not sat down with their estate planning attorney, financial advisor, and/or accountant to discuss implementing an estate plan. This may be because our lives get too busy or it is unpleasant to think of death. Regardless of the size of an estate, everyone can benefit from some type of estate planning. For example, estate plans give us the ability to select guardians for minor children and name agents to make medical and financial decisions in the event of incapacity while living.

Simply, preparing an estate plan helps to assure that whatever assets owned solely in your name at the time of your death (your probate property) is distributed to who you want, when you want, and how you want. If you die without a self-designed, personally created, and legally enforceable trust or will based estate plan in place (you die intestate), then the State of Wyoming has chosen for you the who, what, when, where, and how of your estate distribution, not to mention the order of guardians.

Here is what your estate plan looks like under Wyoming law if you die without a will or trust:

  • First, if you die married and with children, 1/2 (half) of your estate goes to your surviving spouse and the other 1/2 (half) is distributed evenly among your surviving children and/or grandchildren, per stirpes (assets are divided into as many shares as there are living children, and deceased children who left living descendants, of the decedent, with each living child receiving one share and the share of each deceased child being divided among such deceased child’s living descendants in the same manner);
  • Second, if you die married and without children, all of your property goes to your surviving spouse;
  • Third, if you die unmarried but with children and/or grandchildren, all of your property is distributed to your children and/or grandchildren, per stirpes;
  • Fourth, if you die unmarried and without children and/or grandchildren, all of your property is distributed, per stirpes, to your parents, brothers, sisters, and nieces and nephews;
  • Fifth, if you die unmarried and without any children, grandchildren, parents, brothers, sisters, nieces, or nephews, then your entire estate is distributed to your grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins; and
  • Finally, if you do not fall into any of the above categories, your estate escheats (or passes) to the State of Wyoming.

Even if you have already taken the time to set up your estate plan, an estate plan is a living document, which changes, grows, or condenses, as your life and needs change. Is your minor child now an adult with his or her own minor children? Have you purchased additional real estate in Wyoming or another state? Did you purchase a new car or start collecting gold coins? Did you start a new business or come into ownership of a new business interest? All of these changes may, among many other life events and changes, often affect how you would want the terms of your estate plan drafted, and how your beneficiary designations should be named on life insurance and/or retirement accounts.

The estate planning attorneys at Hirst Applegate have the knowledge, tools, and experience to help you with your estate planning goals and objectives. We welcome discussing your questions, and our initial consultations are provided at no charge and no obligation.