By: Neil L. Wojtal
Recently a person (I will refer to her as Ann although that is not her real name) came to our firm with the following fact situation:
Ann had been living with her partner (I will call him Joe although that is not his real name) for many years. Joe was now living in a nursing home with questionable mental capacity to make his own decisions. His adult daughter from his marriage was named in a fully executed Power of Attorney for Health Care as his Agent. Therefore, the daughter was making all of the health care decisions for Joe and she was also making decisions concerning his property although it is unclear in what capacity.
The daughter told Ann that she needed to vacate Joe's house since Ann was not named in the deed as an owner and she had no right to continue to live in the house. She was also told to remove all of her property from the house. Ann asked us what she could do.
The above fact situation is not uncommon. Given reported statistics that nearly one half of U. S. marriages end in divorce, many people are opting to cohabitate rather than getting officially married. As a result, it is important for anyone living in cohabitation in Wisconsin to understand their status as a cohabitant under Wisconsin state law.
Note that these examples are not exhaustive. There are many other rights that can be affected in the event the cohabitants are not legally married in Wisconsin.
Based upon the examples given above, it is important that anyone living in cohabitation protect themselves and their children through written documentation which recognizes the cohabitants' interest in each other's property.
This can be done through wills, trusts and Powers of Attorney for Health Care and Finance and Property. If a cohabitant has a will drafted before the cohabitation, the will must be reviewed and updated to reflect the current wishes of the cohabitant. For example, if children were born during the cohabitation, they need to be named in the will to receive an interest in the estate equal to any children born during a previous marriage if that is the cohabitant's wish.
All Beneficiaries of insurance policies, any survivorship benefits related to pensions, all trust documents and all Powers of Attorney for Health Care and Property and Finance must be reviewed to determine if the cohabitant wants any changes based upon the cohabitation.
In summary, it is important to remember that in Wisconsin a cohabitant has no marital rights and therefore any provision for the surviving cohabitant after the other cohabitant's death or incapacity must be memorialized in a legal document or the surviving cohabitant will have no legal rights under Wisconsin state law.
The information contained in this document is intended for the sole purpose of providing general legal information and is not intended as legal advice of any kind. This information may not apply to your specific issue, therefore, do not act upon this information without consulting Zimmerman & Steber Legal Group, S. C. or another qualified attorney.
This blog is designed for general information purposes only and should not be construed to be formal legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your own situation. Although great care has been taken to ensure the accuracy and utility of the information contained in this blog, no warranty is made, express or implied, and Zimmerman & Steber Legal Group, LLC assumes no liability in connection with any use or result from use of the information contained herein.