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Wisconsin’s Domestic Partnership Law

Many clients have been calling about Wisconsin’s new domestic partnership law, which took effect on August 3, 2009. Here is a brief explanation of the law.

What is a domestic partnership?
It is a legal status for you and your partner if you register with the State of Wisconsin. It is legal recognition of your commitment to each other. The benefits are limited, however. While the law is a step forward for Wisconsin, it is nothing close to marriage or equality.

The benefits include:

• Limited inheritance rights
• Limited health care rights
• The right to sue for your partner’s wrongful death
• The ability to take time off work to care for your partner under Wisconsin’s Family Medical Leave Act
• The ability to prevent your partner from testifying against you in court
• The ability to better protect attorney-client communications

The benefits do not include:

• Child-related rights
• Marital property rights
• Mutual support rights
• State and federal tax rights
• Federal and out-of-state rights in general

Do we still need a life and estate plan?
Yes. A thorough LGBT-specific life and estate plan goes well beyond the rights conveyed by the new law. Furthermore, a good life and estate plan is much more secure than a domestic partnership registration. The registration is a law, and as such, is subject to politics, legislative revision, and court challenges. Finally, federal law and most other states will not recognize a Wisconsin domestic partnership. Therefore, life and estate planning documents will continue to be essential to protecting your family out-of-state.

Should we register as domestic partners?
For most families, registering is a good idea. However, there are some families for whom a domestic partnership could have unintended consequences. It could affect gift tax liability, eligibility for public assistance, and the content and validity of current wills and property titles. This is especially true for couples who own real estate together. You should speak with an LGBT estate planning attorney before registering. Know what you are doing, before you do it, as unromantic as that sounds.

How do we register as domestic partners?
First, you and your partner must satisfy five requirements: (1) you must be 18; (2) you must be a same-sex couple; (3) you must live together; (4) you must be unrelated; and (5) you must be unmarried and not in another domestic partnership.

If you and your partner are eligible and decide to register, you may go to the Clerk of Courts Office in your county and file a state form (an “affidavit”). The first day to register is August 3, 2009. If you have been previously married or registered as a domestic partner, you will need to take additional steps before registering. Be sure to ask for a copy of your affidavit and registration for your records. If you register before speaking to an attorney, be sure to inform your attorney of your registration. You may need to update your life and estate plan.

For more information, call The Law Center for Property & Life Planning at 821-8200.