Are there wedding bells in your future? If yes, congratulations! While this is one of the more significant occasions in your life, have you and your future spouse taken the time to have a serious conversation about the Wisconsin Marital Property Law? I’m guessing you haven’t – and that’s okay. As a Legal Attorney with more than 25-years of understanding this complicated law, I’m a great resource.
Continue reading to review some of the most commonly asked questions about the Wisconsin Marital Property Law. If you’ve still got questions, let’s sit down and talk face to face. I’m truly happy to help.
Most Commonly Asked Questions | Wisconsin Marital Property Law
What is the Wisconsin Marital Property Law?
The Wisconsin Marital Property Law was enacted in 1986 to ensure all marital assets (and debts) were distributed equally, in the event of divorce. As one of nine states abiding by the Community Property Law, Wisconsin courts base distribution on a number of factors, such as earnings, length of the marriage, property brought into the marriage, etc.
In short, understanding this law is important as it controls the ownership of your marital assets and, in the event of a divorce, will control every element of your finances.
Does It Matter if I Earn Most or All of the Income?
No. In most cases, property and proceeds are divided regardless of who earns all or most of the income. Whatever you acquire as a couple throughout your marriage – including debt – will belong the both of you equally.
For example, think about your spouse’s 401(k). Over time, this account’s value grows as a result of contributions, interest, and dividends. You will have equal marital interest in the account, even though the 401(k) is titled in your spouse’s name.
When Does the Law Come into Effect?
If you’re getting married in the state of Wisconsin, and you and your future spouse are both Wisconsin residents, the law will go into effect the day you legally say, “I do.” This is also known as the “determination date.” If you’re an out-of-state newly married couple, the determination date will be enacted once you both become Wisconsin residents.
What is Separate Property?
Think of separate property as the assets that belong to you or your spouse – individually – before your determination date. Individual property could also include gifts or property that are inherited.
In the event of a divorce or death, separate property is exempt from distribution in all states. However, if it is mixed with the couple’s marital property, it will likely become marital property. For instance, if your spouse deposits a check received as an inheritance (which is individual property) into your joint investment account, it is likely going to become marital property.
Can You Change the Effect of the Wisconsin Marital Property Law?
Yes. However, the effect of the law can only be changed – or avoided entirely – by having a documented marital property agreement. This agreement outlines your rights and obligations with respect to your property and your spouse’s property. Additionally, it is usually signed before you get married, but it can be executed afterward, too.
A Legal Attorney Can Help
There is a lot of work that goes into planning for your big day. And while no one wants to talk about divorce during this celebratory time, it is important to understand how the Wisconsin Marital Property Law could potentially impact your future – for better or worse. If you are entering a second marriage (click HERE to read my blog on estate planning for a second marriage) or in a blended family, you will especially want to know how the law affects your unique situation.
It’s my job to educate my clients about their legal rights. If you’re looking to be more informed, let’s talk. Click below to set up an appointment.
True or False? Without a proper estate plan, the legal and financial issues raised by your death – or your incapacity – will be more difficult and expensive for your loved ones. Unfortunately, this is true. And, in most cases, many of us procrastinate planning ahead. Why? Because thinking about death or disability – and then sitting down to plan for it it – is an unpleasant prospect. It’s far easier to focus on the more immediate concerns in our lives.
A good Legal Attorney is key to help you document an estate plan that works for your unique situation. Your plan will involve a number of legal documents, the most common of which are Wills or Revocable Trusts, Guardianship, Beneficiary Designations, and Financial & Health Care Powers of Attorney. Before any documents can be drafted, however, there are initial steps you will need to take, in addition to a number of detailed issues you’ll need give some preliminary thought. For example…
Take Stock of Your Finances.
Compile a detailed list of your assets and your liabilities. While the primary purpose of your estate plan is to address a non-financial goal – to take care of your loved ones – the best approach is often determined by your financial situation.
Consideration for Your Children.
Choosing someone to raise your children in the event of your death will force you to decide what values are most important to you. Here are a few examples of the values many parents need to consider:
- Religious Beliefs
- Cultural Identity
- Parenting Styles
- Family Size
- Geographical Location
- Financial Skills
You’ll also need to consider whether your children are mature enough to manage their inheritance. If not, the funds should be placed in a trust for their benefit. That being said, you’ll need to consider who the trustee should be. The trustee will not only manage the trust funds but also decide when and why to make distributions to your children.
Lastly, if you have a blended family, consider how much you wish to leave to your children, and how much to your spouse.
Any Other Beneficiaries?
If you do not have a surviving spouse or children, who should receive your assets? Would you like to leave your money to other family members, your church, your favorite charities, or all of the above?
What About You?
If you become incapacitated, but do not die, who should manage your finances? Who should make decisions regarding your healthcare? What values are important to you regarding your health care? I will walk you through these tough, but important questions so you are best prepared.
Getting Started with Your Estate Plan is the Hardest Part.
As with most things in life, getting started on your estate plan is the hardest part because you’re forced to think about stuff that’s not easy. Once the initial stages are completed, however, the rest of the process should flow smoothly. Also note, anytime is a good time to get started and no estate is too large or small. As your Legal Attorney, I can get you started on this important planning process today.
Before you say “I do” a second time around, you need to be prepared. Estate planning for your second marriage is imperative. And, as your Estate Attorney, I will help you and your future spouse take care of the complicated stuff so you can focus on the fun part of getting remarried.
Wisconsin is a Marital Property State
This is one of the first things you and your future spouse should know. Why? Your marriage will affect the ownership of all of your assets, regardless of how the asset is titled, which means: change in ownership will affect the division of your assets in the event of a divorce and/or upon your death.
In many instances, failing to revise your estate plan will result in a distribution that is substantially different from what you intended. So, you need to revise or prepare a well-documented estate plan. To learn more about how you and your new spouse can be protected, click below to connect.
Finances Are Often More Complex
You and your future spouse’s respective financial situations are probably a little more complex than when you first married. Why? It’s possible you have more assets or income. Or, one or both of you may have children from previous relationships. In either of these cases, it may be in both parties’ interest to execute a prenuptial agreement.
Here are the most significant issues to address when determining whether or not a prenuptial agreement is needed…
If it is in your best interest to sign a prenuptial agreement, the rest of your estate planning documents (Wills, Revocable Trusts, Powers of Attorney, etc.) should be updated. Your estate plan must reflect both of your decisions and your new marriage.
Estate Planning for Your Second Marriage is Imperative – Let’s Get You Prepared.
If love is in the air a second time around, and you’re ready to get remarried, reach out. I have more than 25-years of experience helping couples manage the legal complications of getting married a second time. Again, this should be a celebratory time. Estate planning for your second marriage will keep protected down the road.Like this article? Please share it:
Wisconsin’s marital property law became effective on January 1, 1986. The law was enacted to formally recognize that both spouses contribute to a marriage even though only one may earn an income. Under the marital property law, whatever the couple acquires during the marriage belongs to them equally, regardless of whose name is on the title. This applies not only to earned income, but also unearned income such as interest and dividends. For example, if one spouse has a 401(k), and over time the account’s value grows as a result of additional contributions, as well as interest and dividends generated by the securities held in the account, the other spouse has an equal marital interest in the account even though it is actually titled only in the contributing spouse’s name. It is important to note, however, that marital property law applies to a couple’s debt and liabilities in the same manner as it does their property.Like this article? Please share it:
Everyone wants to take care of their loved ones to the greatest extent possible in the event of their own death. However, ensuring that your estate goes to your beneficiaries in the manner you intended is not as simple as it may seem. This process is known as “estate planning.” There are a number of strategies and tools in the estate planning process and no “one size fits all” approach. The following is a brief discussion of the various means by which the individual assets which make up your estate may transfer to your beneficiaries.Like this article? Please share it:
Whatever the size of your estate, it is important to plan. Without a proper estate plan, the legal and financial issues raised by your death, or your incapacity, will be more difficult and expensive for your loved ones. Unfortunately, most of us procrastinate because thinking about, and then actively planning for, death or disability is an unpleasant prospect. It is far easier to focus on the more immediate concerns in our lives. However, while estate planning may seem like a daunting task, it need not be. As with almost everything else, getting started is the hardest part.Like this article? Please share it:
There are many unique issues for unmarried couples to consider in the estate planning process. Because there is no “legal” relationship between the parties, it is critically important that these issues be addressed before problems arise. If left too late, you run the risk that your significant other may have no rights and could end up being entirely removed from your life, both personally and financially. So what documents should you put in place?Like this article? Please share it:
One of the biggest misconceptions about estate planning is that it is only important for those who are married. In fact, estate planning is just as crucial for single individuals. With married couples, if one spouse becomes incapacitated and does not have power of attorney documents in place, there is still the natural assumption that the Court will appoint other spouse as guardian. It is a more complicated situation when a single individual becomes incapacitated. By law, the individual’s parents are the next-of-kin, but they may not be in a position to take on that additional responsibility. Perhaps the incapacitated individual would have preferred someone closer in age, such as a sibling. However, neither the family, nor the Court would have any way of knowing this. For this reason it is perhaps even more important for singles to execute financial and health care powers of attorney than for married individuals.Like this article? Please share it:
Most of us never think about dying. But sadly, not all parents live long enough to see their children grow up. Sometimes the unthinkable occurs. If you pass away, what will happen to your children? Who will raise them? If one parent dies, the surviving parent will usually have custody of the minor children as the natural guardian. However, if both parents pass away, then a Court will decide who will become guardian. In its assessment, the Court will look first to the Last Will and Testament of the deceased parent(s), the document in which parents name their choice for guardian. It is important to understand, however, that although the parents have nominated the guardian in the Will, only a Court can actually appoint a guardian. The Court usually confirms the nomination of the parents with the understanding that this decision was not made lightly by the parents. There are some instances, however, when the Court, based on additional information and recommendations by family and professionals, appoints someone other than the parents’ first choice. For this reason it is important to nominate at least one alternate choice for guardian in the Will.Like this article? Please share it:
The Authorization for Final Disposition is a document which allows you to designate a representative who will have the legal authority to make decisions regarding your funeral arrangements and the disposition of your body. This document is still fairly new in the State of Wisconsin. Absent a signed Authorization, Wisconsin law designates who has such authority. The law establishes the following order of priority: 1) surviving spouse or domestic partner; 2) surviving child or children; 3) surviving parent or parents; 4) surviving sibling or siblings; 5) lineal descendants in the priority order spelled out in the Wisconsin Statutes; 6) the guardian at the time of death; and 7) any other person willing to control the funeral and final disposition who attests in writing that they have made a good faith effort and could not locate any of the persons in the above priority list.Like this article? Please share it:
The first two building blocks of a good estate plan are the General Durable Power of Attorney, also referred to as a financial power of attorney, and the Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care. Every adult should have both. As an adult, you are the only one who can make decisions with regard to your own finances and health care. There are only two means by which someone else could obtain the authority to make those decisions for you. The first is through the use of the two powers of attorney. With these documents, you yourself appoint “agents,” one for your finances and one for your health care. These individuals then have the legal authority to act on your behalf in the event of your incapacity. Having both of these documents is just as important if you are married as it is if you are single. In the State of Wisconsin, although your spouse may retain access to many of your jointly titled assets, he or she does not have the legal right to make decisions for you, regardless how long you have been married.Like this article? Please share it:
1. What is estate planning?
Estate planning is a process. It involves people—your family, other individuals and, in many cases, charitable organizations of your choice. It also involves your assets (your property) and the various forms of ownership and title that those assets may take. And it addresses your future needs in case you ever become unable to care for yourself.
Through estate planning, you can determine:Like this article? Please share it:
Providing for children in the event parents die prematurely takes more than choosing a guardian to raise them. Parents must also consider what will happen to any money or property their children will inherit. Children under the age of eighteen cannot directly inherit more than a small amount of money. With assets and life insurance, most parents will leave their children a great deal more than that. If the parents have made no provisions, a guardian will be appointed to manage the assets only until the child turns eighteen, at which point all the remaining assets are turned over the child. Creating a trust to hold the inheritance instead allows parents significantly more control over how the inheritance is spent for their children.Like this article? Please share it:
In the State of Wisconsin there are two separate health care advance directives: the Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care and the Declaration to Physicians (commonly called the Living Will). As advance directives, both are designed to provide direction regarding your health care and treatment in the event that you are no longer able to make your wishes known. Beyond that, however, the two are very different documents.Like this article? Please share it:
One of the many things that you will need to consider when preparing your estate plan is how you would like your personal effects to be distributed. Almost everyone has an item of special meaning that they would like distributed to a certain person. Traditionally, these requests were included in the Last Will and Testament or the revocable trust documents. The disadvantage to this method was that whenever you wanted to make a change, whether it be changing the item or the recipient, or adding additional items, you had to sign a codicil to your Will or an amendment to your revocable trust. This would incur additional costs because the Codicil or the amendment had to be executed with the same formalities as the Will or revocable trust, which usually meant a trip to the attorney’s office.Like this article? Please share it:
Special Needs Trusts: An Excellent Way to Provide for Disabled Loved Ones
Have you been told that you cannot leave money to a disabled son, daughter or grandchild? If they receive certain government benefits, like Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Medicaid or subsidized housing, it’s true. Those benefits have asset restrictions, and if the individual has more than the maximum amount, his or her benefits will be interrupted. If you want to leave money or property upon your death, or gift it during your lifetime, to someone with a disability, you must plan carefully or you could jeopardize your loved one’s ability to receive SSI and Medicaid benefits.Like this article? Please share it:
A Checklist of Documents You Will Need to Settle Your Affairs After You Die
• List of Funeral Instructions and prepaid funeral contracts
• Medicare Card/Health Insurance Card
• VA File Number, Military discharge papers
• Birth certificate and Death Certificate
• Marriage license or Divorce Decree
• Prenuptial/postnuptial agreements
• Revocable/Living Trust agreements
• Last Will and Testament
Trusts: An Explanation of What They Are and How They Could Benefit You
A trust is a legal relationship in which one person, the Grantor, transfers property to another person known as the Trustee. The Trustee then holds the property, managing and using it for the benefit of a third person, known as the beneficiary. The property can be almost any type of property- money, real estate, business interests, securities, etc. The Grantor may also be referred to as the Donor, Settlor or Trustor. Depending upon the type of trust, the Grantor, Trustee and Beneficiary may be three different individuals, or in some instances, they may all be the same person. The document which creates this relationship and spells out the terms is known as the “trust agreement.” Once created, a trust is a legal entity which is capable of owning property. It may even have its own tax payer identification number and have to file income tax returns.Like this article? Please share it:
One thing each of us can do for the future is to get our personal and financial records in order. These records are both useful and something you will need on numerous occasions throughout your lifetime, including annual income tax preparation, financial planning and estate planning. It may even be relatives or friends who will need it in the event that something has happened to you. If you become incapacitated or pass away, your loved ones will need this information and documentation to take over your financial affairs, deal with insurance claims, apply for government benefits (such as medical assistance), or to settle your personal and financial affairs in the event of your death. You’re doing your loved ones a tremendous favor by keeping good records. Your filing system doesn’t need to be elaborate, just organized. The following is a list of what records you should maintain and how long you should maintain them.Like this article? Please share it:
A Checklist of What to Do When a Loved One Dies
When a loved one passes away, it is an understandably stressful time. It can be even more stressful and/or traumatic trying to remember all of the details that must be taken care of related to a person’s death. If you are in charge of handling the affairs of the decedent (the person who has died), here is a checklist of some of the more important considerations:Like this article? Please share it: