Ever since air conditioning became affordable for ordinary people, Florida’s warm weather has been attracting new residents. The tumult of 2020 seems to have accelerated that trend, with only Texas picking up more new residents. When it comets to establishing Florida residency, there are plenty of factors underlying Florida’s popularity, and not just the sunshine.
For one, Florida residents don’t pay state income or estate taxes. For another, there are famously powerful Florida homestead protections—which can be tremendously helpful in financial planning—are only available to the state’s permanent residents. Spousal protections are also very substantial under Florida’s Safeharbor Laws. And, Florida also offers a host of attractive incentives for entrepreneurs looking to launch new business ventures. So, given the many financial, asset protection and estate planning advantages of relocating to Florida, many folks have questions on how to go about relocating permanent residency. It all starts with establishing Florida as your state of domicile.
Key Steps to Establishing a Florida Domicile
To take advantage of many of the benefits of establishing Florida residency, you need to formally establish permanent residency (a/k/a Domicile) in Florida. Just having a Florida address is often insufficient—especially if you still own real estate in another state. Fortunately, becoming a bona fide Floridian only requires a few straightforward tasks and a little bit of legwork.
Apply for a Florida Driver’s License
If your legal state of domicile is ever in dispute, current government-issued identification will be a major factor weighed in resolving the issue. So, if you’re trying to become a permanent Florida resident, you should obtain a Florida driver’s license or other official ID as soon as you can.
To acquire a Florida-issued ID, you’ll need to visit a Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles office with the necessary documentation. A passport or current ID issued by another state and proof of your SSN are necessary to establish your identity. You’ll also need a mortgage statement, utility bill, or similar evidence of your address to prove you are in fact living in Florida. If you have a currently valid out-of-state driver’s license, you won’t need to re-test to get a Florida license.
Register Vehicles in Florida
Under Florida law, you are required to re-title vehicles registered in another state within ten days of permanently relocating to Florida. By comparison, Florida allows new residents 30 days to acquire a Florida ID, so obtaining a new vehicle title should be high on your agenda.
Florida’s DMV won’t register a vehicle in Florida without proof of Florida-approved insurance coverage. That means that, to re-title a vehicle, you first need to obtain a new Florida auto policy. If your current carrier issues auto coverage in Florida, you can request a new Florida policy. Or, you can contact a Florida-licensed insurance agent.
The next step is to complete the Florida DMV’s Application for Certificate of Title. The application asks for information about the vehicle’s owner(s) and about the vehicle itself. You’ll need to provide general information like the year, make, and model, along with more specific information like the VIN, current state title and tag numbers, vehicle usage, and any lienholders. The DMV also wants to know if the vehicle is singly or jointly owned, and, if more than one owner, whether the title should include a right of survivorship.
Once the application is completed and submitted, Florida’s DMV will work with the DMV of the prior state to issue the new title. Florida charges an initial registration fee of $100 and standard fees ranging from $27.60 to $45.60, depending on the vehicle’s weight.
Become a Florida Voter
Since at least 2000, Florida has been one of the nation’s most critical “battleground states.” If you live in Florida and want to participate in deciding which candidate receives the state’s 29 electoral votes (3rd-highest among U.S. states), you need to be a permanent Florida resident. Of course, state and local elections are just as important, and registering to vote in Florida lets you have a say in how your new home state is governed.
The other side of the coin is that registering to vote also serves as evidence that you intend Florida to be your permanent state of residence. Thus, becoming an official Florida voter has the practical, non-partisan advantage of helping demonstrate eligibility for the benefits associated with being a legal resident of Florida.
Registering to vote in Florida is easy. You can complete a voter registration form while obtaining your new license from the DMV, visit the office of the county supervisor of elections, or submit a Florida Voter Registration Application online at registertovoteFlorida.gov. To register, you need to be a U.S. citizen, eligible to vote, and legally residing in the county in which you are registering. You’ll also need an ID, which makes the DMV a good place to kill two birds with one stone.
File a Declaration of Domicile
This may go without saying, but the true first step to becoming a Florida resident is to actually live in Florida. You can’t become legally domiciled in Florida—with all the advantages that entails—if you’re only an occasional visitor and spend most of the year living in another state.
On the other hand, Florida has more than a few residents who spend roughly half the year in Florida and migrate north during the summer heat. If that’s your scenario, you’ll want to complete a Declaration of Domicile formally asserting your intent to make Florida your primary state of residence.
When executing a Declaration of Domicile, you swear that your Florida address is your current legal residence and that you intend to continue residing in Florida permanently. If you have a residence in another state, you indicate that the Florida address is primary. Forms vary a little between counties, so there may be other additional affirmations. In Miami-Dade, for instance, the Declaration affirms the signer’s intent to obtain Florida tags for any vehicles, vote in the correct precinct, and have his or her estate probated in Florida.
A Declaration of Domicile is a sworn statement, under penalty of perjury, that must be signed before a notary. Once executed, the declaration is submitted, along with a copy of your ID and the filing fee, to the Clerk of Courts for the county where your permanent residence is located. Here is the page for downloading a Declaration of Domicile for Lee County, Florida.
A recorded Declaration of Domicile serves as strong evidence that you have become a bona fide permanent resident of Florida. That evidence can be enormously helpful if permanent domicile is ever at-issue in tax or estate-related matters. So, even if you don’t still have a home in another state, completing a Declaration of Domicile may be a wise idea.
Other Factors Establishing Florida Residency
We’ve mentioned a few of the most important, but there are several other criteria weighed when determining an individual’s legal state of domicile. Employment and school enrollment, for example, can be two significant factors in the determination. If you have accepted an offer of employment from a business or other entity physically located in Florida, you are more likely to be deemed a legal resident of Florida. Likewise, having children who live with you enrolled in Florida schools shows an intent to adopt Florida as your permanent state of residence.
Likewise—if you own homes in more than one state and want to make Florida primary—using your Florida address for bank accounts and insurance policies helps establish Florida domicile. Moving your banking to Florida-based financial institutions can also serve as evidence—as can updating newspaper or magazine subscriptions to a Florida address.
Finally, and this is of course our favorite, remember to update your estate plan to Florida specific documents. For those of you with a trust, this may involve having a Florida amended and restated trust prepared. For others, having a Florida last will prepared, as well as a Florida durable power of attorney and Florida healthcare documents may suffice.
Important Note: There are differences in how a legal state of residency is determined for various purposes. For example, Florida courts often determine legal residency for asset protection purposes based upon Florida Statute Sec 222.17. However the rules for bankruptcy are very different and if this is your situation, consultation with your bankruptcy attorney will be critical.
For tax purposes, generally, you would need to establish that you are living in Florida for a total aggregate period of at least 6 months of the year. For folks migrating to Florida, I always recommend consulting with a tax professional in your former home state to assure a smooth and effective transition. For all other purposes, there is no waiting period for becoming a Florida resident.
Florida Residency Tips for Full-Time RVers?
Selecting a legal state of domicile can be an especially important decision for folks who spend most of their time traveling the country by RV. Unsurprisingly, Florida is one of the most popular picks due to the low taxes, competitive insurance rates, and relative ease of maintaining driver’s licenses and vehicle registrations.
Along with the subjects encountered by new and part-year residents discussed above, RVers also need to establish a genuine Florida address where they can receive mail. A P.O. box won’t cut it for residency purposes, but there are commercial mail-service companies that allow you to maintain a physical address in Florida. Receiving important mail at that address lets you demonstrate sufficient residency to register vehicles and obtain a driver’s license. Interestingly, though, if you’re a full-time RVer, the license plate number on your Florida-registered RV (not the mail-service address) will serve as the “address” on your driver’s license. That means updating the vehicle’s registration needs to come first.
Why Establish Your Residency in Florida?
The process isn’t too difficult, though it does require a little legwork. If you’re wondering whether it’s worth the trouble, rest assured—there are very real advantages to becoming a legal resident of Florida.
As already mentioned, Florida is well-known for its low-tax, business-friendly legal and regulatory environment. And, if estate planning is on your to-do list, you’ll be hard pressed to find a state with stronger asset-protection laws. In fact, Florida homestead and other home ownership laws provide asset protection, securing a primary residence from creditor attachment and steep property tax increases AND applying for a homestead exemption is another good way to show you intend Florida to be your permanent legal home.
If you own a Florida home that serves as your primary residence, you can claim a homestead exemption by filing an application with the county appraiser of the county where the home is located. The exemption lets you exempt up to $50,000 of the home’s value from property tax calculations. Even if the property’s value increases dramatically, you won’t get hit with big tax increases because Florida’s Save Our Homes Amendment limits yearly increases in assessed value to either three percent or the CPI-measured rate of inflation (whichever is lower).
Thus, if you spend time at homes in two states, considering Florida “primary” lets you save on income and property taxes and protect the home’s value. And the act of applying for a Florida homestead exemption serves as further evidence of your intent to treat Florida as your permanent state of domicile.
Summary of 10 Key Steps to Establish Florida as Your Permanent State of Domicile
- Apply for a Florida Driver’s License
- Register Vehicles in Florida
- File a Declaration of Domicile
- Register to Vote in Florida
- File a Homestead Declaration
- Obtain Florida Employment
- Enroll kids in Florida Schools
- Get Involved in Local Community
- Move and/or Start a Florida Business
- Update Your Estate Planning Documents
Steve Gibbs, Esq