As a Florida estate planning attorney, I would get asked all of the time about how to become a Florida resident. The good news is that if you declare yourself to be a Florida resident, then Florida will be happy to have you and certainly not object. The bad news is that if the state you are leaving collects a state income tax or a state estate tax, then you will need to take specific steps to terminate your "resident status" in the state you are leaving in order to confirm the change of your residence to Florida.
Legally speaking, the place where you live with the intent for it to be your permanent residence indefinitely is referred to as your "domicile." But what happens if you have more than one home? If time is spent in two or more states during the year, then it is important to choose one state and clearly indicate your choice of domicile by establishing key relationships to and in that state. By doing this, you should be able to persuade your former state of domicile that you have in fact abandoned your domicile in that state and established your new domicile in Florida.
Below is a checklist of things that need to be done in order to officially (and legally) make Florida your permanent home.
If you are still thinking about becoming a Florida resident and want to know some of the benefits of moving to Florida, refer to Top 5 Reasons to Become a Florida Resident.
#1 - File a Florida Declaration of Domicile
A Florida "Declaration of Domicile" (follow the preceding link for an actual form) is a document which allows you to declare that you are a bona fide resident of Florida because you reside in and maintain a place of residence in Florida and you intend to maintain it as your permanent home. Furthermore, you declare that if you maintain another place or places of residence in some other state or states, then you confirm that your residence in the State of Florida constitutes your predominant and principal home.
The Florida Declaration of Domicile must be signed by you in front of a Notary Public or Deputy Clerk of a Florida court and then recorded in the public records of the Florida county where you reside. The recording cost is $10.00 for the first page and $8.50 for each additional page.
The penalty for perjury for falsely signing a Florida Declaration of Domicile is five years in state prison and a $5,000 fine.
Although signing and recording a Florida Declaration of Domicile is not required to establish your Florida residency, it does put the public on notice that you have indeed made Florida your permanent home.
#2 - Obtain a Florida driver's license
If you drive and you live in Florida, then you must have a valid Florida driver's license. If you don't have one but declare Florida as your residence, then this will just be extra evidence to the state you are trying to cut ties with that you have not officially moved.
Note that when you apply for a Florida driver's license, your driver's license from your former state of residence will be confiscated by the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles. Thus, you won't be able to have two licenses, at least from Florida's perspective.
#3 - Register your vehicles in Florida
Aside from obtaining a Florida driver's license, you will also need to register your automobiles, boats and other vehicles that are located in Florida with the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles.
#4 - Register to vote and then vote in Florida
If you vote (shame on you if you don't), then you will need to register to vote in Florida and then actually vote.
#5 - Notify tax officials of your new residence
If possible, file final income tax returns in states where you are required to pay income taxes and notify state taxing officials of your move to Florida.
For federal income tax purposes, list your Florida address as your residence and then file your return with the Internal Revenue Service Center, Charlotte, NC 28201. You should also notify the Social Security Administration of your new Florida address.
#6 - Apply for the Florida homestead exemption
If you purchase a home in Florida instead of renting one, then apply for the Florida homestead exemption. This will not only help to establish your domicile in Florida, but it will also provide real estate tax benefits and asset protection.
#7 - Update your estate planning documents to comply with Florida law
Aside from the fact that you are now a Florida resident and so Florida law should govern your estate planning documents, Florida has some quirky laws with regard to things such as who can be your Personal Representative (Executor) and who you can and can't leave your primary homestead residence to in your will or revocable living trust. Florida also enacted a new durable power of attorney law in October 2011 that is quite different from power of attorney laws in other states.
It is also important to use Florida professionals, such as attorneys, accountants, and financial advisors, whenever possible since these professionals understand the ins and outs of Florida laws that will affect your estate planning, tax planning, and investments.
Of course, this checklist is certainly not exhaustive. Aside from this, each state has different domicile "tests" and each person's situation is different, so what will work for one individual may not necessarily work for another. Thus, it is important to understand the domicile rules in the state you are trying to cut ties with in order to avoid income taxes and death taxes in that state. But the bottom line is that if you are able accomplish most of the items on the checklist, then it is more likely that your Florida domicile will be respected.