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Adverse Possession. Can you claim someone else’s property in Wisconsin?

Adverse possession is a concept where a person can actually gain legal title over someone else’s land. Wisconsin courts have continued to enforce this notion. The idea behind adverse possession if that if you spend enough time caring for someone else’s real property, that they don’t care about or perhaps have even forgotten, and the owner makes no objection to you caring for the property, then a Wisconsin court may say that you have obtained legal title to that property. But how does this happen?

Think: OCEAN

Adverse possession must be:

Open

Continuous

Exclusive

Adverse

Notorious

Let’s visit what this means.

Open and Notorious: The trespasser must be using the property openly, as if they were the owner, and not hiding or using it secretly.

Continuous: The use or possession must be continuous for a statutory period. In Wisconsin, this is generally twenty (20) years.

Exclusive: One must be using the property exclusively and in the possession of the trespasser alone.

Adverse: The use of the property must be against the right of the true owner. You can’t adversely take something they gave you permission to use!

However, the time period is a little different if the trespasser has “color of title,” meaning they by some means believed they actually were the rightful owner. This, coupled with the trespasser paying all real estate taxes for seven (7) years, can give the trespasser title.

But, what if you are the landowner and want to stop someone from adversely taking your land? Your first step is to tell the trespasser that they are intruding on your land, to take everything off your land they may have brought on, and to refraining from coming onto your property. This puts them on notice. If this continues, come talk to us at Petit & Dommershausen to bring an action to quiet title. This is an action where a court formally declares it is you, and not the trespasser, who is the true owner of the property.

Finally, it is important to know that this does not apply to the government. Sorry, you cannot hide out in a state park for twenty (20) years and claim it as your own.

If you need help or have any questions about your property, please contact Petit & Dommershausen today and speak to one of our experienced attorneys. With three convenient locations in Oshkosh, the Appleton area, and Green Bay, we serve all of northeast Wisconsin including Outagamie, Winnebago, Waupaca, Calumet, Brown, Oconto, Marinette, and Fond du Lac counties.

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No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

The Importance of Understanding How to Take Title

The law of real property is rife with complicated language intended to answers basic questions. “What if I want to add someone as an owner of my property?” seems like a simple enough inquiry, but to a real estate lawyer, answering that question requires a clear understanding of their client’s objective.

Consider a man, Albert Abertson, who owns a home in his name only who wants to add someone else’s name to the title. He has a consultation with a lawyer about how this can be accomplished. To his surprise, instead of being handed a simple form and walking out the door after five minutes with a shiny new title, the lawyer begins to ask questions.

Lola Lawyer, Attorney at Law, asks him “who do you want to add to the title?” Considering this a reasonable enough question, he replies “Bob Bobson.” Ms. Lawyer follows up, “and who is Bob Bobson to you?” Now Albert has always been told to mind his own business and shifts in his chair, uncomfortable with delving too much further into his personal affairs.

This is not being Ms. Lawyer’s first encounter with a reticent client. She senses Alfred’s discomfort and explains, “Albert, the reason I need to know is because it will help me advise you on several important matters. Did you know that adding someone’s name to the title can impact your obligations as a homeowner, have tax consequences, and affect how you plan your estate?” If Alfred is able to let his guard down and answer Ms. Lawyer’s questions, he will be a much more satisfied client long-term.

Alfred will learn about the difference between being a tenant in common, a joint tenant, and taking as marital property. He will learn about the tax implications if Bob doesn’t pay him anything to be added to the title, as well as the impact this could have on Medicaid benefits. He will learn about sharing liability with Bob, as well as the possibility that Bob’s creditors could come after the property.

This is just one example of how seemingly simple questions relating to property can have complicated answers implicating a wide variety of legal topics.

A blog post by Attorney Scott Engstrom.  If you have Property Law questions or require representation, please contact Attorney Engstrom at 920-739-9900.  Mr. Engstrom serves clients throughout Northeast Wisconsin with Offices in the Oshkosh Area and the Appleton Area.   Call now.