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Estate Planning Implications of Wisconsin's Declaration of Domestic Partnership

August 03, 2009

On June 29, 2009, Governor Doyle signed the Wisconsin Budget Bill (2009 Wisconsin Act 28) into law. The Budget Bill established Chapter 770 of the Wisconsin Statutes which governs the procedure for forming and terminating a domestic partnership in the State of Wisconsin. In conjunction with the creation of Chapter 770, the Budget Bill also extends certain rights and benefits to domestic partners similar to those of married individuals.

Some of the benefits extended to domestic partners have estate planning implications. For example, the Budget Bill provides that surviving domestic partners are entitled to the following:

  • To inherit assets under Wisconsin's intestacy statutes
  • To purchase or otherwise obtain the deceased partner's home, vehicles and tangible property
  • To obtain financial support from a deceased partner's estate pending the estate administration process
  • To participate in abbreviated probate procedures upon the death of a deceased partner
  • To receive death benefits if the deceased partner was killed in the workplace or in the line of duty as a police officer or firefighter
  • To sue for a deceased partner's wrongful death
  • To obtain victim compensation

The benefits noted above are only some of the benefits granted to domestic partners under the Wisconsin Budget Bill. Several other legal protections are afforded to domestic partners, including the ability to visit or admit an incapacitated partner to a health care facility, to consent to an autopsy, to consent to anatomical gifts, and to take medical leave to care for a partner.

Same-sex couples interested in forming a domestic partnership may apply for a declaration of domestic partnership beginning August 3, 2009 if they satisfy the following criteria: (1) each individual is at least 18 years old and capable of consenting to the domestic partnership; (2) neither individual is married to, or in a domestic partnership with, another individual; (3) both individuals share a common residence; (4) both individuals are not nearer of kin to each other than second cousins, whether of the whole or half blood or by adoption; and (5) the individuals are members of the same sex. The application for domestic partnership must be filed with the county clerk in the county where at least one of the individuals has resided for at least 30 days immediately before applying.

Jennifer Hannon or any other member of Godfrey & Kahn's Estate Planning Practice Group can assist you with any questions you may have regarding the effects of a domestic partnership on your estate plan.

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