What is a domicile? How do you decide what state you want to be your domicile? What is the difference between domicile and residence? What considerations do to take when choosing a domicile? Although domicile and residence are usually in the same place, and the two terms are frequently used as if they have the same meaning, they are not synonymous. A person can have two places of residences, such as one in the city and one in the country, but only one domicile. Residence means living in a particular locality, but domicile means living in that locality with the intent to make it a fixed and permanent home. Residence merely requires bodily presence as an inhabitant in a given place, whereas domicle requires bodily presence in that place and also an intention to make it one's permanent home. It is where you intend to return, where you have your friends, family, and community, and where you plan to return to.
For most Americans, there is never a question of residence or domicle because of the lifestyle they lead. If they move their homes, they buy or rent a physical house and bring with them all of their daily activities. They shop in local stores, subscribe to the local newspaper, visit local doctors, keep their assets in local financial institutions and become involved in local activities, leaving little doubt that they have only one physical home, residence or domicile. It simply is never an issue. But for those who choose to become full-time RVers, the issue of domicile can be less clear. "Domicile is the place where we pay taxes and conduct business. This is our true, fixed and permanent abode and the place where, when absent from it, we intend to return." Domicile is an important legal term. Each person may have only one domicile at any time, even though legal residence is often used in place of domicile.
The establishment of a domicile requires meeting legal requirements of the new state and voiding of the domicile in the previous state. Within a single state, the legalities of shifting locations are seldom an issue. There are a host of legal definitions for the term domicile, but in no case is there a law that clearly spells out exactly what constitutes domicile. It is the result of a combination of actions. It is nearly always the place where one is registered to vote, but that is only one factor.
Some actions that may determine your domicile are registering your vehicles, buying insurance of any type, maintaining a drivers license, making financial transactions, service of legal documents, medical appointments, registering to vote, and maintaining an address.
There are three states that full-time RVers pick as their "home base" or "domicile." These are Florida, South Dakota, and Texas. They share a lack of state income tax, no required period of presence in the state, relatively low cost to register and insure vehicles and a willingness to accept mail service as your address. While all three states have a number of popular commercial mail services, Escapees is the top-rated mail service used by thousands of RVers. They have locations in Texas, Florida and South Dakota for mail service and domicile address information.
In an article written by K. Susie Adams, an attorney with Loring and Associates in Livingston, Texas, she highlights 10 items which one should follow to establish domicile in Texas. Not all 10 must be met to establish a Texas domicile, but it helps. Her list is:
(1) Mail service - where are you now going to receive your mail?
(2) Vehicle registration - now that you have your mailing address, you can register your vehicles (if in Texas, make sure your vehicles are inspected before trying to get them registered).
(3) Driver's license - next in line after getting your mailing address and registering your vehicles, but be sure to have the official identification required.
(4) Register to vote - which can be done at the same time you register your vehicles.
(5) Affidavit of Domicile - a document that needs to be signed & notarized and filed with the court claiming Texas to be your home.
The next five requirements are not so easy, but must be considered in order to actually be domiciled in Texas.
(6) Your connection to the Livingston, Texas community - how much time do you plan on spending in Texas? To establish domicile in a new state, you must spend time in that state, and you must show that you "intend to make that state your home." The courts will look at what community connections you have with your new state.
(7) Business Papers - Do you have a local bank? Where is your automobile insurance and health insurance located?
(8) Estate planning - when you change states of domicile, your wills, trusts, and powers of attorney must be set up in the new state.
(9) Real estate - where do you own real estate? Do you still own a house somewhere? Is it rented out or vacant? Taxing authorities of the state you left may question your new domicile.
(10) Personality - Where are your personal items stored?
One has to choose what state they want as their domicile, and we have chosen Texas mainly because we use the Escapees address as our mailing address and their address is considered by Texas as a domicile address. For most people, driver's licenses, vehicle registration, and mail service are all in the same state because you need an address in order to receive renewals when due and to insure vehicles. The actions of moving your vehicle and voter registrations, mail service and driver's license are all relatively simple, but the impact of domicile choice and its validity could be of critical importance.
So, not only do you have to register your vehicles, get new driver's licenses and automobile insurance, you also have to execute new wills, living wills, powers of attorney, and a document called "Declaration of Domicile." This document is filed with the Clerk of Superior Court in the county in which you are declaring as your new domicile (using the Escapees address will be Polk County). You also need to send a copy to the Clerk of the state you are leaving so the legal system knows your intentions to change your domicile.
You can read Our Storyon how we got our automobile and trailer registrations and driver's licenses.
To be more explicit, the following explains domicile in more detail: In General: >Do you already own property somewhere and do you intend to keep it? >Even though you may feel that the state where the property is located is not your legal residence any longer, the state may think differently. >Perhaps now is when you should consult your accountant and attorney.
Voter Registration: >Do you intend to vote? >What are the legal requirements are for voting in the state you are considering? >Some states require a residency period, some mandate that you have a physical address, while others specify a street address is sufficient.
Vehicle Registration/Driver's License: >How much will it cost to register your vehicle(s) each year? -- Not only your RV, but your car or truck. Some states charge flat fees, some charge by weight and some by value. >Are there any surcharges for bringing vehicles in that are registered in another state? Is there a "new resident" fee? Will you have to pay sales tax when you register in this state? If you have to pay sales tax, will it be based on the new purchase value or the current market value? States vary widely on these points, so be sure to check it out! >Does the state assess a personal property tax on vehicles? In some states, this is built into the cost of your annual registration. In others, it is a separate tax bill that you would receive each year. >Does this state require a vehicle inspection? If so, how often? In addition, are you also required to have an emissions system inspection? Remember, you have to be in the state to get these inspections done - most times before you can renew your tags for the year. >Can you renew your auto registration by mail? >Can you renew your driver license by mail? If not, you would need to return to that state on a regular basis when your license is due for renewal. If the state uses your birth month as the expiration date, what happens when your birthday is in January and your partner's is in July . . . and what about returning to one of the snowbound northern states in January to renew a driver's license?
How much time do you intend to spend in your home state? >Where do most of your family/friends reside? If they live in that state, you may be spending a significant amount of time in your home state. You will want to take the following into consideration: the climate, the crime rate, access to medical care. >Some states had laws set up that if you spend 150 days per year in that state, THEY consider you a resident and subject to all their fees and taxes (South Carolina is one example of this). >Will you make any major purchases in this state? Remember the impact of the sales tax.
Medical Insurance: >What will the impact be on your medical insurance? Compare the rates for several states. >If you already participate in a plan, you need to find out how transportable the coverage actually will be. HMOs and PPOs will cost you more for services when you travel outside their network area.
Vehicle Insurance: >We all have to have insurance on our vehicles - be sure to check the rates for all your vehicles, including your RV. >The cost of insuring your vehicles varies widely from state to state.
Health Care: >Do you have any chronic illnesses that require frequent attention? >You will want to be sure that you have easy access to the health care professionals you need when you need them.
Taxes: >Does the state have a personal income tax? >You may actually make out better with a state that does. If your income is low or you are on a fixed retirement income, you will probably not pay much in personal income tax. >Some states without personal income tax often have higher sales taxes or other unusual taxes. >Even some states without personal income taxes still tax the income from interest and dividends. Florida is one example. If a large portion of your income comes from these sources, get the details. >Is pension income taxed? >What is the sales tax rate? Some states exempt medicine, food, clothing - there is no standard. Some states tax services, including professional. Learn about the impact of local sales taxes as well as those imposed by the state. >Do you own extensive personal property that could be taxed (boats, bonds, etc.)? Check out the state's rules. >What other taxes could impact you - personal property, income tax on dividends and interest, sin tax (cigarettes, liquor, etc.), luxury taxes? Do you smoke or drink? What is the gasoline tax? Check the fine print carefully. >If you own property, what is the property tax rate? Yes, we know, you sold your home so this does not apply to you. But if you plan to buy property in the state at some point, even just an RV lot, check into this one. >What is the inheritance tax rate? What is exempted? We do not like to think about these things, but they ARE facts of life. Your loved ones will have to deal with them, so check with an accountant and make it easy on them later.