If you own more than one home, what determines your legal residence? If you work or go to college across state lines, which state can you legally call home? Such questions depend on where you are domiciled, or the place where you maintain a permanent residence. You can have more than one home, but only one domicile. If you are not living there now, then it is the place where you intend to return and make your home indefinitely.
This can be important for many reasons. The state where you are domiciled is the state where you generally pay income and estate taxes, file lawsuits, vote, claim government benefits, and more. Domicile is also used to enroll children in school and establish eligibility for homestead protection. Children are generally domiciled at their parents’ permanent residence until they reach the age of majority and acquire a new domicile.
Where you spend the greatest percentage of the year has a lot to with determining your legal residence. With so much movement in modern life, establishing a clear domicile claim has significant results. For example, moving to low-tax Florida from a high-tax state can offer many income and estate benefits. Tax officials from a former state, however, may attempt to collect unless clear Florida domicile status can be shown.
Again, owning a home in a given state and spending time there does not guarantee it will be recognized as your legal domicile. Ultimately, that determination hinges on intent. Take every opportunity to show that your preferred state is where you intend to call “home.” In Florida, filing a “Declaration of Domicile” is a strong first step. This legal document affirms your intention to make Florida your permanent residence under penalty of perjury. It must be filed with the clerk of the circuit court in the area where you reside and witnessed by a deputy clerk or notary public. Once submitted, it will be entered into the public records of the county where you live.
There are still a few more steps you can take. For example, obtaining a driver’s license, registering vehicles, opening bank accounts, registering to vote, paying federal income taxes from your preferred address, and updating your estate planning documents will also help establish intent. This is also where an experienced Florida estate planning attorney may assist you. We encourage you to contact our office for help navigating domicile issues.