What Is Estate Planning?
You can save your loved ones a lot of money and frustration by devising a plan for the management of your health care and property if you become severely disabled or pass away.
A Wyoming estate planning attorney can help you with:
- Advance health care directivestelling how you want your health care managed if you ever become too ill to speak for yourself
- Powers of attorney appointing someone to manage your property and sign legal papers for you if you become unable to take care of your own affairs
- Wills and probate that transfer your property to selected beneficiaries upon your death
- Trusts that provide for the care of children or disabled persons, minimize taxes or protect against creditors
- Ways to avoid probate that transfer property at death - insurance, gifts, joint ownership of property, bank accounts
- Medicaid eligibility planning
Advance Health Care Directives
Advance health care directives are written instructions telling how you want your health care to be managed if you become so ill you can't speak for yourself. Wyoming law permits adults and emancipated minors to make advance directives that include the following parts:
- Power of Attorney for Health Care: You can authorize someone, such as a close friend or family member, to be your health care agent. Your agent then has the authority to make health care decisions for you. You can give your health care agent the immediate authority tomake your health care decisions. Or, you can give your agent the authority to make your health care decisions only if a doctor determines you're too sick to make them yourself
- Instructions for Health Care: You can indicate whether you want to receive life support (such as artificial respirators) if you develop a terminal condition and are near death, are permanently unconscious, or when the risks and burdens of treatment outweigh the benefits. You can also indicate whether you want to receive artificial feeding and hydration and pain relief treatment. You can list other specific instructions for your medical care
- Donation of Organs and Tissues: You may donate your organs and other body parts upon death
- Information about Health Care Provider: You can name the doctor primarily responsible for your medical care
Your health care directive must be signed by you and two witnesses or a notary public. The witnesses can't include the person you select to be your health care agent, your health care provider or the operator or employee of a care facility in which you are a patient.
Powers of Attorney
In Wyoming, you can sign a durable power of attorney to appoint someone to handle your assets if you become severely disabled. A power of attorney should include the power to:
- Manage and transfer all assets
- Deal with the IRS
- Make gifts on your behalf
- Create and amend any trusts you set up
You don't need to transfer any assets when you sign a power of attorney. It's a good idea to keep the person you've chosen informed about your ongoing financial matters.
Making a Will
In Wyoming, you can make a valid will if you are at least 18 years old and of sound mind. Your will must be in writing, or be typewritten, and it must be signed by you or by another at your direction and in your presence. In addition, you need to have two individuals witness your will.
In the will you can:
- Distribute your property
- Select a guardian for your minor children
- Name an executor or personal representative to manage the probate of your will and the distribution of your property after your death.
You can change your will by making a new will that replaces or revokes the old one or by making an addition to the will, called a codicil. Changes such as a marriage, divorce, birth or adoption of a child, new property ownership or moving to another state should cause you to review your will and consider whether it should be changed to fit your new situation.
A Wyoming lawyer who does estate planning can explain the consequences of some of the most basic choices you must make in writing your will. It makes sense to have an estate planning lawyer draft your will so you avoid costly mistakes and achieve your intended results.
Dying without a Will
Dying without a will is known as dying intestate. If you die without a will in Wyoming, your property is distributed according tostate law.
If you have a spouse and children, your spouse will get half of your estate and your children will receive the remainder of your estate. If you have a spouse but no children, your spouse will receive your entire estate.
If you have children and no spouse, your children will receive your entire estate. If you don't have children or a spouse, your parents and siblings will receive your entire estate.
Wills may become public after your death. It can also take time for property to be distributed through the probate of a will. That's why many people look for more private ways to transfer their assets.
In Wyoming, alternatives to probate include:
- Life insurance policies or trusts
- Giving gifts of cash or other assets before death
- Transfer on Death or Payable on Death bank accounts
- Holding property by joint tenancy with right of survivorship
- Retirement plans and Individual Retirement Accounts
- Revocable living trusts (sometimes called grantor trusts)
There are many kinds of trusts. Often trusts are set up to care for minor children or disabled adult relatives. A parent can name a trustee to be in control of the trust finances and property. The trustee is usually a family member or trusted friend. The trustee can be paid an hourly rate or a set monthly amount for their services out of the trust assets.
A special needs trust or supplemental needs trust can be set up to provide benefits to a disabled person. It may be possible for them to receive trust benefits without being disqualified from receiving government benefits such as Social Security and Medicaid. The trust must contain language making clear that trust distributions are to supplement, not replace, any basic support benefits otherwise available to the disabled person.
Probate is the public process of:
- Filing and validating a will in court
- Paying the debts and taxes of the deceased person
- Dividing up the assets according to the will orWyoming law
The probate process generally begins when a family member or personal representative hires a Wyoming probate attorney to file the will with the Probate Court for the county where the deceased person lived.
Questions for Your Attorney
- If a will doesn't involve real estate, does it need to be probated?
- Do you charge by the hour, or can you write a simple will for a set fee?
- Will my heirs have to pay taxes on proceeds they receive under my will?