During the first marriage, Genevieve owned a residence, where she lived together with her husband and children. She continued living in this residence when she got married to Geza, while she retained the title to the property in her own name. In the course of their marriage, Genevieve and Geza made significant improvements to the residence using cash from their joint checking and savings accounts. Funds from these accounts were also used for the payment of utilities, taxes, insurance, and all other emerging expenses. Fontaine (2004) asserts that apart from the residence, Genevieve brought in three certificates of deposit (CD) worth $10,000. Notably, she went ahead and cashed one of the CDs in the course of their marriage. Genevieve also took the step to deposit cash into the couples joint NOW account. However, she retained the other two accounts in her own name. In 1988, the couple took $9,000 from their joint NOW account to purchase a Cadillac automobile that was registered in both of their names.
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In June 1979, before her marriage to Geza, Genevieve executed her will, which ensured that her estate was distributed to her four children from her previous marriage. After the death of Genevieve in 1990, Geza took the initiative and filed a notice in line with the widowers election of deferred and augmented marital property. In his notice, Geza demanded reimbursement for the funds used to improve the residence in cases where the probate court could have ruled that the residence was a non-marital property belonging to Genevieve. More so, Geza wanted to get his one-half marital interest in the residence in cases where the probate court could have agreed to the reclassification of the residence into a marital property. The demand for one-half marital interest in the residence emanated from his contribution in terms of improving it. Nevertheless, the estate objected claims made by Geza and filed different claims against him.
One of the claims filed by the estate against Geza was that he had not paid the accrued property taxes on the residence after Genevieves demise. More so, the estate also took issue with the funds utilized by Geza and Genevieve to purchase their Cadillac automobile in 1988. Accordingly, the probate court ruled in favor of Geza on all the claims he had submitted in his notice. Fontaine (2004) agrees that the court emphasized that the residence had been reclassified to mixed property in tandem with the Section 766.63, Stats of the MPA because of the application of marital cash and substantive labor in the improvement of the residence during the marriage. Additionally, the court stated that the property had been reclassified because of the impossibility of tracing. Overall, Geza was awarded the one-half value in the estate because of the contributions he had made during the marriage. The probate court also overruled the estates claim of $9,000 that was allegedly loaned to the couple to the purchase of the Cadillac, as this money had been withdrawn from the couples joint account, and the car was registered in both of their names. The estate appealed the decision to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals.
Did Gezas claims on the residence meet the requirements of Section 766.63 on mixed property in a marriage?
Partly yes and partly no; the Wisconsin Court of Appeals upheld the decision of the probate court in part and reversed some of it.
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The Court of Appeals in Wisconsin reasoned that Gezas labors and efforts toward improving the residence did not constitute the substantial contribution that is provided in the statute. According to the Court of Appeals judges, the probate court was wrong in granting Geza a one-half entitlement to the residence because his efforts did not contribute to its value. For instance, Fontaine (2004) indicates that the residence did not improve in value from 1986-1990, as its value kept going down. They said there must be a tangible proof of the value enhancement that matches different cases such as Suter v. Suter and Lindevig v. Dairy Equip. Comp., where proof is required for the reimbursement of the title to be given to the surviving spouse. The court also reiterated that Section of the Uniform Marital Property Act is similar to Section 766.63, Stats. Both of them are strict in terms of establishing proof relating to the improvement in the property value of the marriage. The court opined that the labor costs incurred in the improvement of the residence were normal and did not constitute the substantial proof for the probate court to reclassify the residence as marital property. This does not provide a fair view for both spouses in the relationship because it tends to favor one partner in the relationship. It is always vital for the lower courts to hold a position that favors both spouses in the relationship. Overall, all judges in the Court of Appeals agreed that the improvements made by Geza and Genevieve during their marriage do not provide the ground for reclassification of the residence from the non-marital status to the marital status.
On the matter relating to the alleged loan used for the purchase of the Cadillac, the Court of Appeals upheld the decision of the probate court, while dismissing the appeal filed by the estate. Fontaine (2004) opines that the court reasoned that the alleged loan was a personal pledge of Geza to Genevieve, and had no basis of restricting him from putting claims on the residence. The court noted that Geza had promised Genevieve the payment in cases where he could have been asked for the amount. Again, the amount used for the purchase of the Cadillac came from the joint account of the couple and was aimed at benefitting both of them. However, Genevieve died without requesting the payment of her amount. Geza has the right to convey his interests on the property without any form of limitations emanating from the alleged loan. Thus, it is crucial to consider the mutual agreement held by both members in the relationship, as they have their own understanding.
Lastly, all judges at the Court of Appeals dismissed the estates claim against Geza by reasoning that the real estate taxes are paid bi-annually and not on a monthly basis. In line with this argument, Geza was not to be blamed for the non-payment of the accrued property taxes after the death of his wife. Judges of the Court of Appeals opined that they did not dispute the fact that Geza had an oral agreement with his wife to pay the accrued property taxes. Mutual owners of any property have the right to agree between themselves on the matters relating to the payment of taxes. The judges were careful in explaining the right of Geza to claim his interests in the property, but reversed the ruling of the court relating to the mixing of the property. It will be difficult for Geza to prove that his property had mixed with Genevieves non-marital property. The probate court was ordered to conduct more investigations relating to the matter in order to reveal the exact positions on the matter of mixing.