Can I Keep My Inheritance in a Divorce in Wisconsin?

This is a question we often hear in a divorce action.  Inherited and gifted monies are exempt from division in a divorce in Wisconsin.  If you have kept these funds separate, in your own name, there is a high probability that you will be able to keep any gifts or inheritances in a divorce.  Sometimes, the court can divide these funds in unusual circumstances for “equitable reasons” but that is a fairly rare occurrence.

However, disputes arise when inherited or gifted funds have been “co-mingled” into a marital asset.  For example, if the funds were deposited into a joint account or were used to purchase a marital home.  In these situations, the nature of the funds have been transmuted into a marital asset.  Often, the individual receiving the inheritance or gift wants those funds back at the time of the divorce.  The current state of the law on this topic is that there must be “donative intent” on the part of the spouse who received the inheritance.  In other words, is there sufficient evidence that the spouse intended to give his or her inheritance to the marriage or to the other spouse?

This inquiry is very fact specific.  The court would look at the details of the marriage and the actions of both parties to make this determination.  In reality, however, family court is a court of equity and strives to arrive at a result that is fair and equitable to both parties.  Depending on when the inheritance was received and where the funds were spent or deposited, the court will sometimes give credit for co-mingled inherited or gifted funds.

For further details, please see our website or contact us for a free initial office consultation.

Teri M Nelson

6 thoughts on “Can I Keep My Inheritance in a Divorce in Wisconsin?

    • As long as the spouse’s name is not on the deed and there is evidence of the gift or inheritance, that asset is exempt from division in a divorce. All gifted and inherited assets are excluded from division. To be sure, you should consult with an attorney.

  1. I equally helped with the care of the property and care of both my in laws and a brother in law who was handicapped. 90 to 95% of the my wife spent helping so did I the ramaining time I spent watching our kids whiles she was helping with more personal matters with her mom and dad. I helped around the farm, I drove them and escorted them to the health club and doctors appointments. I tube feed her mother and helped with what ever needed to be done for 15 years. 5 of those years I took care of the 3 acre lawn and snow removal of the farm with no pay after that I was paid. I believe any inheritance she receives from this should be our families. My wife’s
    mine and two kids. I have spent countless hours helping and being there for my wife and her family. Do I have any rights to the inheritance.

    • The statutes say that there is a presumption that inherited assets are exempt. However, the court can deviate from that presumption if it believes it would be equitable to do so. You certainly have an argument in that direction but what the judge would do, I don’t know. However, it sounds as if you have two issues. First, there is no inheritance yet, correct? From your post, it seems as if that has not occurred yet. Therefore, there is nothing to divide in a divorce. The court cannot make prospective orders because that asset doesn’t exist and may never exist. Long term care or health care costs can quickly exhaust an estate. Second, there is no divorce yet. Now, if you wait for those two things to occur (file for divorce after your wife receives an inheritance), then you have an argument to make. However, until those two things both occur, you have no legal remedy. If your Wife eventually does receive an inheritance and she agrees to give you some or put them into a joint account or joint asset, then you have even a better argument to have those assets be divisible in a future divorce.

We welcome your comments or questions. We will do our best to try to respond. However, please be advised that we cannot give legal advice in this forum and all communications are for general informational purposes only. Communication should not be construed as forming an attorney-client relationship. This is an open forum and any information you provide may be posted and will not be held confidentially. By posting a comment or question, you are expressly giving consent for the publication of same. If you have any specific legal issues or concerns, we always recommend that you consult with an attorney in the county and state in which you reside.

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