In Wyoming, the District Court has exclusive jurisdiction over matters related to the estates of decedents. WY Stat § 2-2-101. When someone passes away, their estate must be settled through a court-supervised estate administration process. While the District Court judge who, for cases involving the estates of decedents is referred to as the probate court judge, is responsible for overseeing the estate administration process, a personal representative appointed by the court is responsible for completing the day-to-day tasks of estate administration. If the decedent left a will, the person named in the will to serve as personal representative or executor will be the person who the court formally appoints. In the absence of a will, any interested party such as the surviving spouse or adult child can petition the court to be name personal representative.
Probate and Estate Administration Process in Wyoming
Once the personal representative has been formally named, has been issued “letters” from the court, and has taken an oath, they have the legal authority to move forward with the tasks required to settle the decedent’s estate. Those tasks include:
Inventorying estate assets. Two of the main purposes of estate administration is distributing estate assets to those legally entitled to it and paying estate bill. Before either of those tasks can be completed, the personal representative and the court must know the value of the estate as of the date of the decedent’s death. The first step is identifying the property that is part of the estate. That may include bank accounts, vehicles, real estate, jewelry, and other personal property.
Payment of debts. One of the primary purposes of estate administration is to make sure that the decedent’s debts are paid. In fact, before estate property can be dispersed, the personal representative must resolve debts. To receive payment, creditors must file their claims in writing within 9 months of the date of the decedent’s death. While the personal representative has a duty to pay debts left behind by the decedent, this can only be done if the estate has enough money. Before general claims are paid, first there are other bills that must be paid in the following order:
- Expenses for the funeral expenses for the decedent
- Expenses related to administration
- Money that the decedent owed to the Office of the Public Guardian for Elderly Adults
- Debts owed to the federal government or to the State of New Jersey
- Decedent’s medical expenses
- Judgments entered against the decedent
- All other claims
If there is not enough money in the estate, some debts will not get paid.
Asset distribution. Wyoming law requires that the personal representative resolve claims and allocate assets to expenses before asset distribution as debt and expense payment take priority over asset distribution to beneficiaries and heirs. Once debts and expenses are cared for, the personal representative is required to distribute assets based on the terms of the decedent’s will. If the decedent does not have a will, then assets are distributed as required by Wyoming’s law of intestate succession. Note that the personal representative is not allowed to distribute assets without first getting permission from the court.
The administration process is not a fast process. It will take at least 6-9 months. The reason is that it takes at least that much time for the personal representative to notify creditors, for creditors to have time to submit their claims. The estate must stay open during the claims process. Other factors that will impact the length of the process is whether there are complications such as a will contest other probate litigation, the size of the estate, the number of beneficiaries, and any other factors that make the process more complex.