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Establishing Your Domicile

Domicile for RVers

Let us introduce ourselves. Shawn Loring is the CEO of Escapees. Shawn Loring and K. Susie Adams are also law partners in the law firm of Loring & Associates. We concentrate on matters important to the fulltime RVers. One of the most important areas of concern is “Domicile”. When you live in an RV fulltime, what is your domicile and who cares? This article is a detailed exploration of those questions and all their ramifications.

How 'Most' People Establish Domicle

Normally, when you establish a “domicile” you do so without much thought. It is based primarily on where you have your home.

So, a “normal” couple sells their house in one state, buys a house in another state, thereby establishing their domicile in the new state.

For example, let’s say you decide to move from California to Texas. You sell your house in California, buy a house in Texas. After you have been in your new home for a short time, you change your vehicle registrations, driver licenses, and all other documents and relationships to your new state of Texas. You have, therefore, changed your domicile to Texas.

The reason it is so involved is because you, dear friend, are not normal.

When Your Domicile Claim Becomes A Problem

It is a problem when your old state claims you have never left that state, that your domicile is still, say, in California. If you fail to prove that you have really moved to Texas you may owe back taxes, plus penalties and interest.

It is a problem when you are in an accident and the vehicle and health insurance companies in your new state claim that you lied to about being “domiciled” here; and, as such refuse to cover your losses or your liabilities.

It is a problem when you die and your will, during probate, is challenged in a state you did not realize was still your domicile.  As a result, the laws of a state to which you assumed you were no longer connected alters the distribution of your possessions to your loved-ones

It becomes a problem when you are sued in a place you did not realize you were domiciled. In many states, the courts of the state in which you are domiciled have jurisdiction over lawsuits affecting you.

It becomes a problem when you want to run for a political office and cannot do so because you aren’t actually domiciled in the state where you are trying to run.

Domicile vs Residence

RV Domicile (and domicile in general) and RV Residency (and residence in general) are often confused and used as interchangeable terms; and, yet, they have very different definitions.

A domicile is a legal connection with land. Unfortunately, there is not one universally accepted definition of a domicile.

However, a working definition of domicile is the place to where you permanently live and during temporary absences, the place where you intend to permanently return. You have only one domicile, at any given time. And, the term RV domicile is almost a misnomer because domicile is not dependent on the structure/vehicle in which you dwell.

That brings me to the other term—RV residency. A residence is a structure or a vehicle—a place in which you can dwell. Black’s Law Dictionary defines a residence as “…the place where one actually lives, as distinguished from a domicile…a house of other fixed abode; a dwelling…

In short, while you have only one domicile, you can have countless residences. As such, RV residency pertains to dwelling in an RV, not to domicile or RV domicile.

A key component of the definition of domicile is the legal concept of “intent.”. Back in the early 2000’s when George W. Bush was running for president, he asked Dick Cheney to find him a suitable running mate. Cheney looked long and hard for this running mate before deciding the obvious best choice was himself, Dick Cheney. So, George W. Bush announced that Dick Cheney would be his running mate. There was in instant and loud cry of protest. The United States Constitution clearly states that the president and vice president cannot be domiciled in the same state.

At that time, George W. Bush was governor of Texas and Dick Cheney ran Halliburton and lived in Dallas, Texas. As soon as the protest began, Dick Cheney announced to the world, “I am now domiciled in Wyoming!” And, thus, Cheney changed his domicile from Texas to Wyoming. He stated his intent to make it his home. Needless to say, it helped that he already owned a house in Wyoming and had been a Congressman from Wyoming before taking the job with Halliburton in Dallas. For the purpose of being a running mate to George Bush, though, all he needed to do was to state his intent. His staff then helped him make the obvious, but necessary changes so that his vehicles were registered in Wyoming, his drivers license was changed to Wyoming and his voter registration was changed to Wyoming. That’s how easy it is when you have residences in several states.

Ten Steps to Establishing Domicile

You can only have one domicile and it will remain the state from which you have “moved” until you have taken the necessary steps to change it to your new state of domicile—presumptively, Texas, Florida, or South Dakota, for reasons we will address below. And, while we outline the ten most common steps you will need to take in establishing your new domicile, this is not an exhaustive list.

Courts reserve the right to look at all of the elements of your life when attempting to identify your domicile. Your actions will typically speak louder than your words, in domicile challenges. So, we encourage you to take as many of these steps as you reasonably can.

However, it is also important to note that one-off factors are not likely to destroy your domicile election. Courts will evaluate the totality of your circumstances, giving more weight to certain factors. So, don’t worry if you cannot take all of the steps we explore below.

An important note: there is no perfect state of domicile, you will give up something to get something, in every state. As such, choosing a domicile becomes an incredibly personal decision. It may be most important to you that you pay as little sales tax as possible, while someone else may favor low insurance premiums. One gentleman chose Alaska because he found their hunting and fishing laws to suit his lifestyle.

Download these free Domicile Guides and Checklists to help you establish domicile when you hit the road!

1. Acquire Your New Address

The first step to establishing your domicile is to acquire your new address. This address will be used on all your papers that ask for your “permanent address.” Since we are affiliated with Escapees, we will use their address for this purpose. You can acquire an address from Escapees enabling you to connect with Texas, Florida, or South Dakota, before you arrive in your new state, either online or by mail.

2. Have Your Vehicles Registered In Your New State

Once you have this new address, you will need to register your vehicles in your new state. For Texas, before you can register the vehicles, they need to be inspected. Both inspection and registration are easy in Livingston, Texas, partly because it is a small town (one hour northeast of Houston) and partly because it has been the headquarters of Escapees for over forty years. As such the local officials are accustomed to helping RVers.  Sumter County, Florida, and Pennington County, South Dakota, are increasingly RVer friendly areas. Here are some resources, by state, to help you begin your vehicle registrations:

3. Turn in Your Old Drivers License and Acquire Your New State's Drivers License

Once you have registered your vehicles, the next step is to turn in your driver license and acquire your new driver license. Depending on the size of your RV, however, you may need to take a non-commercial DL, so it is important to understand the requirements of your new state of domicile. Test. Here are some resources, by state, to help you begin your driver license requirements and begin your applications:

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4. Complete an Affidavit of Domicile and File it with the Court

An Affidavit of Domcile is a sworn statement that you file with your county testifying that you intend to domicile in a new state. Please note, this document is not a magic instrument that will cure all of your potential domicile issues. However, it is another step that you can take to establish your intention, at a time when no threat of a challenge looms above. When your domicile is challenged, in any of the ways described above, there may be a presumption that you will do or say anything to avoid that challenge which could call into question the sincerity statements you make during that challenge about your intent.

5. Register to Vote

Domicile determines where you are eligible to vote. For most United States citizens, voting is a constitutional right.

Once you have completed the steps in #4, and if you have met the other requirements to register to vote, you will become eligible to vote in all elections (local, state, and federal) from your new county of domicile.

Another important note: creating a domicile connects you to a county as well as a state. While we often discuss the elements of establishing and maintaining a domicile in terms that relate to state-level considerations, there are times when the factors you will consider exist at the county-level.

As you probably are aware, lately, the right to vote has been a “political hot potato”. Escapees has worked long and hard to protect your right to vote where you are domiciled. It is one of the defining points for why you can only have one domicile because you can only vote in one place.

Because of your lifestyle, it is clear to the county clerk of Livingston, Texas, for example, that you will probably be voting absentee. The clerk will periodically send emails concerning absentee voting to those domiciled in Livingston, Texas. However, it is your responsibility to follow the steps necessary in a timely fashion to preserve your right to vote. The same concept rings true in Florida and South Dakota.

6. Have Your Estate Planning and Other Legal Documents Created in your State of Domicle

Every state is subject to the “Full Faith and Credit” laws of the United States Constitution. These laws state that if you have papers drawn up in another state that need to be interpreted in your state of domicile, the courts will be bound to do so.

In other words, if you move from, say, California to Texas and you have spent a fortune having California lawyers draw up your trusts and powers of attorney in California, Texas will honor those documents. However, following the example for a moment, you can find yourself in a situation where a Texas court is struggling to apply the substantive (and possibly the procedural) laws of California–that could cause lengthy, expensive problems in probate.

As a best practice and  as further proof of domicile, having your estate planning documents prepared, updated, or even re-written in your state of domicile will help you prove that you really left one state and formed a connection with your new state of domicile. In essence, changing these documents tells the world you “intend to call your new state home” to the end, that you “intend to die in that new state.”

7. Be Physically Present in Your New State

There is a disturbing case out of Minnesota. A Minnesota couple, the Sanchez’s, sold their house in Minnesota where they had been domiciled, bought an RV and left the state. They spent a week in South Dakota doing the steps above. They got their new South Dakota address, they registered their vehicles and they got their drivers licenses. Then they left South Dakota and spent the next 1 ½ years traveling all over the United States.

Minnesota taxing authorities sued them, claiming they were still domiciled in Minnesota. The Sanchez’s argued that they hadn’t been back to Minnesota, had no ties there, no house, nothing. But when the Sanchez’s also admitted they hadn’t spent any time in South Dakota, they lost their case. They had to pay back taxes, plus penalties and interest.

So, the moral to the story: it isn’t enough to choose a new state, go there for a week, fill out the paper work and then take off with no intention of returning to your new state of domicile. This is a tricky step on your path to creating and maintaining domicile.

There are exceptions to the following, but in most circumstances there is not a certain number of days you must be in the state or away from the state in which you domicile. However, you must, from time to time, visit your new state to show you intend to call it home.

As such, choose a state of domicile that will be part of your normal travel pattern—even if choosing that state causes you to pay more in taxes or insurance premiums.

Remember, there is no perfect state of domicile. Opt for a state you intend to frequent over one you will never visit regardless if that state provides some advantage.

8. Create Professional Relationships in Your New State

One of the factors that Minnesota cited when they challenged the Sanchez family’s South Dakota domicile election was the professional relationships the Sanchezs’ maintained in Minnesota. Minnesota was able to discover the number of times the Sanchezs’ visited doctors and dentists in Minnesota. And, as you can guess, they maintained no such relationships in South Dakota.

The lesson here is that, as best you can, you should establish and maintain relationships with professionals in the county in which you domicile.

As noted above, establishing a domicile connects you with a county, as well as a state.   As such, your doctors, dentists, accountant, financial planners, mechanics, and even your lawyers should practice in the county of your domicile. Here again, reasonableness comes into play. If your cousin is your accountant or your doctor is a county or two away from your county of domicile, you may be able to successfully defend why you opted to maintain that relationship. Again, courts are going to evaluate the totality of your circumstances. If you have a significant number of relationships in your new county of domicile, one-off relationships maintained elsewhere may not matter too much.

One of the many state-specific programs most of us are subject to is health insurance. Health insurance changes state to state. This includes Medicare Supplements for those over 65. So, just because you had a great supplement in the state from which you came does not mean the same supplement is available in the state you are now calling home.

In fact, for programs like the Kaiser program in California, we have had many a person tell us that they want to “become Texans” but “keep their Kaiser insurance.” That is not possible. You will have to find health insurance in your new state of domicile. Also, we advise that you also find local doctors, dentists, even veterinarians that you will visit on a regular basis to show that you really mean to call your new state home.

9. Create Social Connections in Your New State

Next, we advise that you also establish social connections in your new state of domicile.

In one case out of Minnesota, professional NBA referees were targeted because they tended to travel often and were rather free to call any state home. One referee had a home in Minnesota and a home in Florida and claimed that Florida was his domicile. Minnesota taxing authorities sued him alleging that he was actually domiciled in Minnesota. He showed that he had quit his tennis membership in Minnesota and joined a tennis club in Florida. The court determined that he must, indeed, be domiciled in Florida because “you can’t play tennis remotely.”

With that in mind, we urge you to join local clubs. If you were, say, a Rotary Club member in the state from which you have “moved”, join the local Rotary Club. Visit the local library and obtain a library card. If there is a church home, join that as well.

10. Move Your Storage To Your New State

When we ask people about the stuff that wouldn’t fit into their RV, where that is stored, many say, “back home.” In order to show that you have really left that state behind, it is also recommended that you move that stuff to your new state.

At first, this may seem absurd, since you may not be sure which state you intend to call home. However, it is yet more proof that you really have moved to a new state or it indicates that you really still have an intent to return to that state you have left.

Which State is the Best State for Domicile?

Download these free Domicile Guides and Checklists to help you establish domicile when you hit the road!

We often are asked this question. “Just tell us where we should domicile.

As much as we wish there was a magic formula to use to answer this question, there isn’t one. This is a personal question. It depends on you, your lifestyle, and your family.

However, there are factors to consider when making this decision. We recommend that before you choose a new state for domicile, create a spreadsheet with everything you are now receiving that is state-specific, including such factors as sales tax, personal property tax, income tax, health insurance, vehicle insurance, all such factors and then compare it to those costs in other states.

Sometimes the benefits you get from health insurance, for example, far outweigh the price you pay in income tax. Here are factors to consider:

  • Ease of dealing with the state: One of the factors to consider is how easy is it to deal with this new state you are calling home. For example, how easy is it to register your vehicles? How easy is it to obtain a driver license? What about voting absentee?

    One of the obligations of domicile is jury duty. In some counties, if you are under a certain age, you will be summoned for jury duty. You may be able to claim that you are unavailable once, but the next time you will be mandated to appear.

    Because Livingston, Texas has been the headquarters of Escapees for so long, the district clerk’s office works with fulltime RVers to accommodate the lifestyle. The district clerk asks that you notify the court when you might be in the area so that they can put you on a jury panel. Other ease-of-dealing-with-the-state issues include how accessible medical professionals are and what the conceal and carry laws are.

  • Know About the Local Taxes. There are seven states without income tax. They are Alaska, Florida, Nevada, Texas, Wyoming, Washington and South Dakota. Two states, Tennessee and New Hampshire, collect income tax on interest and dividends, but not wages and salaries.

    There are also five states that do not collect sales tax: Alaska, Montana, Delaware, New Hampshire, and Oregon.

    Even though Alaska doesn’t collect sales tax, the counties of Alaska can collect sales tax and they do. So that needs to be explored. There are also state inheritance, gift and estate taxes. These have changed somewhat lately, but also differ greatly from state to state, so please explore this before choosing that new state of domicile.

  • Know How Your Assets will be Protected and Your Vehicles and Your Health will be insured. Every state differs in terms of health insurance, vehicle insurance and asset protection. You may have a very good Blue Cross Blue Shield program in, say, Virginia, but when you change your domicile to South Dakota, under their Blue Cross Blue Shield program you may find you have much less coverage at a higher price.

    The same is also true for your vehicle. Before choosing a new state for domicile, find out exactly what you now pay for your vehicle insurance and then explore what that same coverage will cost in the state where you might domicile. Sometimes, registration of your vehicle is less, but insurance is greater.

    For asset protection, you should determine whether there are good retirement plans available in that state and explore whether the state is a community property state, is personal property exempted. What about homestead exemptions, will they affect you? All of these factors will help you determine the best place to “call home.”

Domicile For RVers

In law school, the study of domicile usually lasted one class session.

However, for the fulltime RVer, this issue becomes a very interesting one. In fact, it is one of those subjects ripe for final exams as the law students attempt to break down how to create and maintain your domicile when you choose the roaming lifestyle. This is certainly an evolving area of law.

The good news: not too long ago a person read one of our Domicile articles after receiving a letter from the California taxing authorities claiming that he was still domiciled in California. He responded to the letter by claiming that he lived in Texas and then giving our ten reasons why he was now domiciled in Texas and not California. The California taxing authorities agreed with his analysis.

Though there are many commons factors to consider in most domicile situations, there are ample variables that make establishing domicile a unique process to each RVer. If you would like to discuss the specifics of your situation, please reach out to your attorney for advice.

If you don’t currenly have an attorney, give us a call at 800.260.1615 to schedule your free consultation and we will do our best to answer your questions!

Author

K. Susie Adams SKP #134068

K. Susie Adams has been a lawyer for over 30 years, spending 15 of those years working as a trial lawyer. She also taught legal writing at the University of Houston Law School. From 2011–2016, she was executive director of Childrenz Haven, the Child Advocacy Center of Polk County, Texas. Susie and her husband, James Frost, reside in Livingston, Texas.

Author

Shawn Loring | Escapees CEO | SKP #76442

6 Responses to “Establishing Your Domicile

  • David A Sexton
    6 days ago

    I’m pretty sure that I read this entire article some time ago, was it updated with new information?

    • Georgianne Austin
      5 days ago

      Yes, we review and update our legal and financial articles periodically to ensure that the information is still accurate. Thanks for reading!

  • Bob Beers
    5 days ago

    I am 89 years young, lifetime in Washington State, going full time in Sept. As of yesterday I signed up for a Senior RV park in Salem OR. My account informed me that if I call OR my new domicile it will cost me about $480.00 per month in OR State income tax so that is OUT!! After reading all this great info (provided by my accountant) my knee jerk is to stay a WA resident. At my age I probably wont be traveling for many more years and then would probably return to WA. I could use my Grand Daughter in WA as my address.
    First, I need to become an Escapees member. And then what do you think of my, decided in the last 1/2 hour, plan??
    Thank You
    Bob Beers

  • Rick Bertino
    5 days ago

    Great article. I would like to establish a domicile in Nevada. Does the club have any plans to establish the same services there?

  • Bruce Davis
    5 days ago

    Thank you for the info on domicile. We are full time work campers. Is the domicile issue resolved if we buy a investment property in/around Livingston?

  • Susan H
    4 days ago

    Does the Florida Declaration of Domicile have to be notarized by a Florida notary public or will a notary in another state work as well? If it must be sworn before a Florida notary, will a remote online notary satisfy this requirement?

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