Increasingly, states in the U.S. are permitting domestic partnerships, civil unions, and marriage for same-sex couples. Although New York, Iowa, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Washington, D.C. allow same-sex partners to marry, Wisconsin does not. The state has, however, allowed for registered domestic partnerships since August 3, 2009. 2009 Wisconsin Act 28 formally recognized domestic partnerships in the state and governs many legal aspects of the relationship between partners. Provisions of the Act can affect estate planning, property rights at death, wrongful death actions, employee benefits, and health care decision-making for registered domestic partners. Because the Act is not comprehensive, domestic partners in Wisconsin can still benefit from advance planning with regard to both the distribution of assets and healthcare matters.
Under the Act, a domestic partnership in Wisconsin may take one of two forms. First, a limited purpose or state employee domestic partnership is recognized by the legislation. This type of partnership relates to state employee benefits and is only available to employees of the State of Wisconsin. The partners involved in this type of relationship may be either opposite or same-sex.
The other type of same-sex domestic partnership is available to anyone. The partnership is recognized in Wisconsin once a couple obtains a declaration of domestic partnership from the county clerk where they reside and records the declaration with the register of deeds. The definition of a same-sex domestic partnership as outlined in Wisconsin Statutes Chapter 770.
Domestic partnership law in Wisconsin affects joint property ownership, real estate transfer fees, family and medical leave, and access to health insurance. The legislation also allows a surviving same-sex partner to inherit in a similar manner to a surviving spouse under Wisconsin intestacy laws and affects the transfer of personal and real property interests upon death. For example, a registered domestic partner may inherit household items, jewelry, and motor vehicles under the law. In Wisconsin, a registered same-sex partner is also afforded visitation in a variety of health care settings, may consent to organ donation, and has access to health records after a partner’s death. Additionally, the Act automatically revokes same-sex partnership benefits established through any governing instrument as soon as a domestic partnership is terminated. Wisconsin Statutes Section 854.01(2) defines a governing instrument extremely broadly to include trusts, insurance policies, retirement benefits, annuity contracts, wills, powers of attorney, and other planning documents.
Because many critical subjects are not addressed by Wisconsin domestic partnership laws, it is always a good idea to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney to ensure your end of life wishes are followed. For example, domestic partnership laws do not address who will determine or authorize funeral and disposition arrangements upon the death of a partner or how minor children will be cared for after a partner’s death. As with traditionally married couples, a thoughtful estate plan should always be created in order to protect loved ones and transfer assets in accordance with a decedent’s wishes. Our capable estate planning attorneys can explain your various estate planning options.
Contact Krause Donovan Estate Law Partners, LLC, for all of your estate planning needs. Our experienced attorneys are available to help you and your partner plan for the end of life financial and healthcare decisions. We invite you to request a consultation to discuss your estate planning goals and the best way to achieve them.