Before a decedent’s assets can be distributed, their estate must go through a legal process called probate. During probate, the personal representative appointed by the probate court settles the estate by paying its debts and transferring title to its assets as directed by the decedent’s will and Wyoming law. The first step in the process is the filing of a petition for probate along with the will with the court. Once the will has been admitted to probate, a Notice of Probate is published letting interested parties know that they have three months from the date of the first publication of the notice to file objections to the will. Wy. Stat. §§ 2-6-301 and 2-7-201. If someone feels that the will is not valid, they can file a petition contesting the will and asking the court to revoke it. This is known as a will contest.
Who Can Contest It Will in Wyoming
Under Wyoming law a will cannot be contested by anyone who chooses to. In order to object to a will, the objectant must be an interested party. This means that the person must have an immediate and direct financial interest in the matter. Those who have standing to contest a will include beneficiaries named in the will, beneficiaries of a prior will, and intestate heirs.
Procedure for Contesting a Will in Wyoming
A will contest cannot be initiated until a will has been filed with the probate court and admitted to probate. The objectant must then file a written objection with the same probate court. The objection must state the reasons for the objection, and it must ask the court to revoke probate. Wy. Stat. § 2-6-301.
Grounds for Contesting a Will in Wyoming
In addition to having standing, to contest a will you must have legal grounds. While it is not uncommon for beneficiaries and heirs to be unhappy about the terms of a will, there must be more than that for a court to allow you to litigate the matter. There are specific reasons that a court will invalidate a will, including:
- The testator was not mentally competent. A testator must be mentally competent at the time that they executed the will for the will to be valid. This is described as being of “sound mind.” Wy. Stat. § 2-6-101. Being of sound mind means that at the time the will was made, the testator understood the consequences of writing a will and the nature of their estate.
- The testator was under undue influence. An objection to a will based on undue influence means that the objector alleges that someone who had a close, confidential relationship with the testator illegally influenced the testator to make a will that they would not have otherwise made.
- The will was improperly executed. To be valid, a will must be meet certain requirements. The will must in writing, it must be signed by the testator, and it must be signed by 2 disinterested, competent witnesses. Wy. Stat. § 2-6-112
- The will is fraudulent. A will would be fraudulent if it is based on false information. For example, if a beneficiary intentionally made false statements to induce the testator to make certain provisions in a will, the will would be fraudulent. In addition, if the will is forged, it would be fraudulent and should not be probated.
- There is a more recent version of the will. If the will that was filed for probate is not the most recent will, then it should not be probated. When a new will is executed, the prior will is revoked.
Consequences of a Will Contest in Wyoming
If a will contest is successful, then the probate court will not probate it. If there is a prior valid will, the court will probate it. Otherwise, the court will declare the decedent to be intestate. This means that their estate will be distributed to their next-of-kin according to Wyoming’s intestate succession laws. Wy. Stat. § 2-4-101.
Under the intestate succession provisions the decedent’s estate would go to their surviving spouse and children, if any. Otherwise, the statute provides an order of priority in which other relatives would be entitled to inherit.
Effect of a No Contest Clause in a Wyoming Will
A “no contest clause” or an “in terrorem clause” in a will is a provision that makes all gifts in a will conditioned on the recipient agreeing not to contest the will. Testators include no contest clauses to discourage beneficiaries from initiating litigation over the will and trying to circumvent their estate planning goals.
While in some jurisdictions no contest clauses are not enforceable, they are in Wyoming. In a 2018 case, the Wyoming Supreme Court held that a no contest clause does not violate public policy and that a testator has the right to attach lawful conditions to testamentary gifts. EGW and AW v. First Federal Savings Bank of Sheridan, 413 P.3d 106 (Wyo. 2018)