Domicile: It’s All About Intent

We’re on a little theme here, but the subject is so important and it is often confusing.  In recent weeks, I’ve talked about domicile and residence, taxes, homes of record, and car titles and registrations, and I’m working on some posts about homestead exemptions, legal documents, and all sorts of other stuff.  The key factor in all of these conversations is intent.  The crux of domiciliary law, or determining your state of legal residence, is where you intent to be a resident.  Now, no one can know your true intent, but they look at all the external evidence to determine what it looks like your intent might be.

That seems simple enough, but military folks have an unfortunate habit of taking lots of little steps that don’t add up to any clear intent.  That’s when things can get problematic.  Sure, it’s easier to keep your driver’s license from Washington because it won’t expire, and tag your vehicles in Virginia because that’s where you bought them, and then register to vote in Florida because you have a keen interest in the election that year.  However, if you do those things, and there is a question about where you are domiciled, you’re going to have a difficult time proving anything.

In order to maintain a clear picture of your intent, it is important to evaluate every action that relates to your legal residence or domicile.  The first thing you need to seriously consider is where you intend to be your legal residence.  Options are somewhat limited – you can’t just pick anywhere.  For the most part, you need to actually live in a state in order to establish domicile there.  Once you’ve determined that you have or want to establish a residence in a particular state, then do your darndest to make sure that the actions that you take support that position.   There are some things that are out of your control; for example, Ohio requires that military spouses get a Ohio driver’s license if they are posted there, even if they are a resident of somewhere else.  If you are in a situation where you are forced to take some action that is inconsistent with your intent, then you will need to be doubly sure that everything else you do is consistent.

Things that might indicate your domiciliary intent:

  • paying state income taxes,
  • holding drivers licenses,
  • titling and registering vehicles,
  • registering to vote,
  • actually voting,
  • claiming homestead exemption,
  • registering businesses,
  • holding professional licenses or qualifications,
  • state of residence listed on legal documents, such as wills.,
  • any other action that shows your intent and is not directly incidental to your location that is directed by PCS orders.

I encourage military service members and their spouses to take seriously the actions that demonstrate their domiciliary intent, and to be sure that your actions are consistent with what you really mean.  While it may result in some inconveniences along the way, you will have much less stress in the long run.

About the Author

Kate Horrell
Kate Horrell is a military financial coach, mom of four teens, and Navy spouse. She has a background in taxes and mortgage banking, and a trove of experience helping other military families with their money. Follow her on twitter @realKateHorrell.