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The Ten Commandments of Texas Domicile

By K. Susie Adams #134068

It usually starts when a couple comes to see me at the legal offices of Loring and Associates. They are happy because they have driven to Livingston, Texas, in their new RV and are ready to “create their domicile” in Texas before taking off again. They’ve been told the whole process can be completed in less than a week—in fact, in only a day, sometimes.

I begin by saying, “Tell me your story.” The typical couple has decided they want to be full-time RVers, and they are planning to sell their house—for instance, back in Massachusetts. They chose Texas as their new home because they’ve read blogs by full-time RVers who have said it’s so easy to call Texas home. They have their map of Livingston. They know the location of Escapees Headquarters and our office, how to find the driver license office and how to register their vehicles. They’ve signed up for the Escapees mail service. “So,” they ask, “Are we good? Are we Texans?”

Luckily, they have chosen to make an appointment with me. In my office, I have the list of what I call “The Ten Commandments” of domicile on the wall behind their chairs. I ask them to turn around so we can examine the rules to see if they truly are Texans.

 

Number One: Mail service.
Yes, their address is now Rainbow Drive, Livingston, Texas.

Number Two: Vehicle Registration.
Yes, now that they have their Texas mailing address, they can register their vehicles.

Number Three: Driver License.
Yes, Livingston, Texas, has been dealing with Escapees members for years, so obtaining a driver license (as long as you also have one of the official identification papers with you) is relatively easy.

Number Four: Register to Vote.
With the documents from step three, you can also register to vote.

Number Five: Affidavit of Domicile.
Affidavit of Domicile is a form in our office for people to sign before a notary claiming Texas to be your home. We file the form with the court.

Unfortunately, there are five more requirements that aren’t so easy. It’s these other five “commandments” that you must also consider in order to actually be domiciled in Texas.

Number Six: Your connection to the Livingston, Texas, community.
I begin by asking a rather basic question: How much time have you spent in Livingston? What have you done locally to establish ties to the city? How much time do you plan to spend in Texas?

Sometimes, the response is an immediate shrug of the shoulders. If they explain to me that they don’t plan to spend any time in Texas, I tell them about case law, which says 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. It can be as simple as joining a local tennis club. I ask if they have a local doctor, dentist and veterinarian?

Number Seven: Business Papers
I ask if they have business connections in Texas. Do you have a local accountant? Do you use a local bank? Have you switched your health insurance to a local provider?

Number Eight: Estate Planning
Have you had your wills, trusts and powers of attorney drawn up in Texas? If you intend to make Texas home, as the domicile law requires, this is one way to show that intention.

Number Nine: Real Estate
Where do you own real estate? Do you still own a house somewhere else? Is it rented out or staying vacant until you return home? That will be hard to explain if the taxing authorities of the state you left question your new domicile.

Number Ten: Personality
This is the name for all that stuff that wouldn’t fit into your RV. Where are your personal items stored? If it is stored “back home” in a state you claim is no longer your home, it will make it difficult to prove that it really isn’t your home for domicile purposes.

Many people then ask me why it is so hard for them to claim a new home. I remind them that they have chosen a lifestyle that doesn’t fit into “the norm” and with that choice come some consequences not experienced by those living in the typical “sticks and bricks.”

Not all the Ten Commandments must be met to establish domicile. However, it’s a weighing process in which the courts engage. They weigh the factors you show to support your claim of calling the new state your home as opposed to the factors that show another state as your likely domicile. If you end up in court having to prove to a judge that you are domiciled in Texas, you must prove it by a “preponderance of the evidence.” That means there must be more evidence proving your domicile than there is evidence showing it isn’t your domicile.

In conclusion, as you are contemplating where you want to call home, I suggest you create a spreadsheet where you compare all the states that you might consider home. Compare all the factors that are important to you and then choose the one that fits.

And, while on the road, stop by and visit us at Loring and Associates, or call us with your questions.

As a new, added feature, Escapees now offers domicile lectures as a part of the RVOU program (RVers Online University, escapees.com/rvou). These lectures are helpful in guiding you through the tricky, legal maze of domicile.

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

K. Susie Adams

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.

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