The difference between gifted, inherited, and pre-marital assets, and why it matters in Wisconsin

When a couple gets married both people usually come into the marriage already owning some property and having funds of their own.  Down the road, one or both may also be given gifts or inherit money and other assets.  While married, the two may not give much thought to who technically owns this property.  However, for Wisconsin couples, it’s essential to be able to understand and identify their respective asset ownership.

Separate Property

Wisconsin is a “community property” state meaning that generally, what a couple earns or acquires during the marriage belongs to each partner equally.   However, some assets are considered separate property which means they belong solely to an individual rather than the couple. One type of separate property is property which was owned before the “determination date” of the marriage.  The determination date is when the couple married or when both spouses became residents of Wisconsin, or January 1, 1986, whichever is later.  For example, if you owned a car before you married, it would be considered separate property.  Another kind of separate property is a personal inheritance.  If one partner is left something by inheritance, it belongs to them even if they received it after they got married.   Likewise, a personal gift which is given to one spouse is also considered his or her separate property. For example, if you inherited or were given a car only in your name after marriage, it would be your separate property. 

Changing Separate Property to Community Property

It is important to note that just because property starts out as separate does not guarantee that it will remain that way.  For example, if you had a separate bank account when you got married and then took those funds and added them to you and your spouse’s bank account, they would be considered co-mingled joint community property.  The same thing could happen if you inherited money and then combined it with your marital funds.  Additionally, changing legal ownership on property such as a car or home to be in both you and your spouse’s name, can make separate property become community property.  Conversely, if you acquire a community asset and put it only in your name, this will not mean that it only belongs to you.  For instance, if you open a bank account on your own after you are married with funds from your work, this is very likely to be considered community property.  

We have extensive experience in assisting our clients with understanding the ownership of their property and assets.  Call us today to set up a consultation so we can take a “first look” and talk about your next steps.

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