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For most of us, there is never a question of residence or domicile because of the lifestyle that we lead. If we move our homes we then buy or rent a physical house and we bring with us all of our daily activities. We shop in local stores, subscribe to the local newspaper, visit local doctors, keep our assets in local banks, and we become involved in local activities, leaving little doubt that we have only one physical home, residence, or domicile. It simply is never an issue.

One of the advantages of the full-time lifestyle is our ability to choose the place to call home. Many full-timers choose a location more tax friendly than the place where they have lived for their working years, while some may choose to keep the domicile which they have had for many years. To discuss the issue, one must first understand the difference between residency and domicile, as they are not synonyms. Care must be taken when staying for extended periods to avoid violation of local requirements related to domicile.

Residency
is actually as simple as the place where you live. Many people have more than one residence as they may spend time in several different locations in the course of a year. Each place that you stop for more than a few days is a residence. For a full-timer, there are usually many of these and they may be of very short duration.

Domicile is an important term to understand and each person may have only one at any time. It is the place where we pay our taxes and conduct business. “Legal residence" is often used in place of “domicile. This is your true, fixed, and permanent abode and the place where, when you are absent from it, you intend to return. The establishment of a domicile requires both meeting legal requirements of the new state and also voiding of the domicile in the previous state. Within a single state the legalities of shifting locations are seldom a major issue. There are a host of legal definitions for the term domicile, but in no case is there a law which clearly spells out exactly what constitutes domicile but it is rather the result of a series of actions. It is nearly always the only place where one can legally register to vote, but that is only part of it. Some actions which may determine your domicile are registering motor vehicles, buying insurance of any type, maintaining a driving license, making financial transactions, service of legal documents, medical appointments, and maintaining an address.

While it is generally considered that vehicles are to be registered in your place of domicile, that is not always true as the laws state that a vehicle should be registered and insured in the place where it is "garaged," or where kept when not actually in use on the roadways. That could be your physical home, but there may be those who own a vehicle at each of two different residences for use there, and which is left behind when residences change. In such case, the legal thing is to have each registered in the state where it remains. Vehicle insurance must be in the location where the vehicle is registered, for each vehicle owned. Boats have similar registration requirements.

Driving licenses are usually maintained in the state where one domiciles. As long as you meet the legal requirements of the state where you apply for a license, you can use it. For most people, driving licenses and registration are maintained in the same state where their mail service is because you need an address in order to receive the renewals when due and to buy insurance on your vehicles. License and registrations laws make no mention of the issue of domicile, but do require a permanent address and can be a part of determining it. While you are not required to receive mail at your domicile, it simplifies things if you do. Though no laws are violated in doing so, you may be questioned if license and registrations do not match addresses.

Your financial business is a consideration, but no law states where it must be done. It is not uncommon for people to do business in more than one state and there is no legal issue in doing so, as long as you pay all taxes in the appropriate state. Direct deposits across state lines can create tax issues. This becomes important if the domicile that you claim as your own should be challenged in a court. The court looks at the total of all business and legal actions that you perform and from that rules on where your domicile is. Typically, courts will rule that your domicile is in the location where the most important or majority of business is transacted.

Most of us base choice of domicile primarily upon things like state income taxes, registration fees and things which cost us money, but one should be very careful to be sure that other legal issues will not become a problem. A couple who choose to share an RV but are not married may want to use care about common law marriage. Other things which could become important are issues of common property or dower rights. Jury service should be considered, as should estate laws, medical directives, powers of attorney, living wills, revocable trusts, and any other legal issue that may apply to you. It is not possible to list every conceivable issue that should be considered but sound legal advice is important. It is very seldom that there is a legal challenge to the domicile chosen by one of us, but in the event that it is, each and every transaction of business or legal activity could become evidence in a hearing. Generally, the more of your business which you actually perform in the location of your chosen domicile, the more secure it will be. The mobility which allows us this freedom to choose can invite such disputes.

Another issue to be considered is the impact of domicile choice upon your existing insurance policies. That is particularly true for health coverage or retiree benefits and in some cases a state insurance pool could be a factor. Because each case is different you need to be very careful. For those on Medicare, it is valid in all states but the supplemental coverage’s and part D policies availability vary by state. Insurance costs very greatly among locations.

The three most popular states for full-timers are Texas, Florida, and South Dakota. They share the lack of state income tax, no required period of presence in the state, and relatively low costs to register and insure vehicles, and  willingness to accept a mail service as your legal address for these and related purposes. In addition, Texas is the home of Escapees and Florida is the home of the mail service from Good Sam and other mail services. South Dakota has a number of popular mail services. No state is best or worst for everyone so choose well.

The actions of moving your vehicle and voter registrations, mail service and driving license are all relatively simple but the impact of domicile choice can be of critical importance.

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