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Where do you live? Domicile for Full-Time RVers

Where do you live? Domicile for Full-Time RVers 1

There are approximately 11.5 million RVs currently in use, and approximately 1 million are used by full-time RVers. Because there appears to be so many full-timers around the campfire, both new faces and veteran RVers, it seems proper to readdress the basics of domicile: what is domicile; why is domicile an issue and what are some domicile factors?

(As always, this article is intended for educational purposes only. I highly recommend you seek personalized advice from a licensed, practicing attorney who specializes in domicile.)Ā 

What is domicile?

Unfortunately, there is no universally accepted definition of domicile, and it changes from state to state and from area of law to area of law. Note that domicile impacts many different areas of law (e.g. land/property, voting rights, tax law and estate planning, to list a few.) However, domicile is generally defined as the place to which you intend to permanently return, even after temporary absences. Your ā€œintentā€ seems to be critical to any domicile discussion. It is important to note that intentions may be ambiguous and may change from time to time. Because intentions exist purely in the mind, courts tasked with determining a personā€™s intentions (and, thus, a personā€™s domicile) can only examine the manifestations of a personā€™s intent. And those manifestations become the factors which courts commonly examine when determining a personā€™s domicile (as discussed below).

Please know there is a difference between domicile and residenceā€”or otherwise stated RV domicile and RV residency. If you are confused by those terms, you are not alone. Legislators often confuse and conflate, even those termsā€”using them as interchangeable concepts. However, they are distinct concepts:

ā€œResidence merely requires bodily presence as an inhabitant in a given place, whereas domicile requires bodily presence in that place and also an intention to make it oneā€™s permanent home.ā€

In the context of RV residency, your RV is your residenceā€”the place that you put your head down at night. And, while it appears from some laws that you need to make an appearance in the county of your domicile (and, I would strongly encourage you to make regular appearances in your chosen county), it also appears that you do not have an obligation to remain in that county. It may seem obvious that you may take a vacation. And, further, the 14th Amendment to The Constitution guarantees you the right to travel amongst the states. In short, you have one, and only one domicile; however, you may have many residencesā€”in theory you could have a residence on every street, everywhere. And, in the context of RV residency, your residenceā€”your RVā€”travels with you (or you with it); but, your RV domicile remains fixed and permanent.

Why is domicile an issue?

Many people live full-time in their RVs for years, and they never have their domicile challenged. Therefore, it is reasonable to ask, why is domicile an issue? Simply stated, the consequences of losing a domicile contest can be severeā€”including monetary fines and, in some cases, criminal charges. Domicile contests can arise from any law in which domicile is an important component. However, typically, domicile challenges arise out of the following areas of law: tax law, jurisdiction and estate planning law.

Some RVers attempt to minimize the sales-and-use tax they will pay on their RV by purchasing it in a state with little or no sales-and-use tax. However, when those RVers are domiciled in one state and are purchasing their RV in another state, they may still owe tax in their state of domicile. When the RVers register their RVs in their state of domicile, they reveal the tax burden. (Again, this article if for educational purposes only. Please consult with your tax advisor for specific advice.)

Domicile impacts jurisdiction in some cases. As mentioned above, domicile may impact where a court case may be tried. And domicile impacts where probate may occur. Often, when RVers leave their stick-and-brick lifestyle for the meandering RV lifestyle, they forget to update their estate planning documents commensurate with the laws of their new state of domicile. When they pass away, jurisdiction for probate is proper in the state/county of their domicile. However, a court may have to apply another stateā€™s laws, in accordance with the wills and/or trusts, creating a messy probate.

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What are some domicile factors?

Implied above is the fact that there is an incalculable number of manifestations of ā€œintent to domicile.ā€ And courts are empowered to examine any of those manifestations, giving any weight they want to them. Courts may consider any words or deeds in their factor analysis. However, there are a few factors courts examine with regularity, so RVers should manage the following factors as a bare minimum.

Some factors that receive frequent treatment in articles, blogs and forum posts included mail service address (typically RVers first connection with a state and county), driver licenses, vehicle registration and voter registration (where applicable). These factors are easy for courts to examine and readily discoverable.

Land ownership may seem definitive as to a domicile election. However, as discussed above, residence does not equal domicile. Mere land ownership is not dispositive or determinative of domicile. RVers may own rental/investment properties and vacation homes without those structures becoming their domicile.

Other, more difficult to determine, factors include the RVersā€™ community connections. RVersā€™ interactions with professionals, religious institutions and social clubs matter. Doctors, dentists, accountants, financial planners, attorneys, religious institutions and social clubs (Rotary Club or Veterans of Foreign Wars) should be in the county where the RVers domicile. And it is important that the RVers visit their county of domicile regularly. While there typically is not a schedule by which RVers must appear in their county of domicile, their domicile story is strengthened when they pass through as part of their normal travels. It would be a bad idea to pick a county in which to domicile and to never visit that county.

RVers should be wary of how they use their mail service address. Courts can analyze information used to establish bank accounts, credit card accounts, investment accounts and other similar types of accounts. Therefore, it is wise to make certain that all of the important business information reflects the correct address of domicile. Inconsistencies in address information may evidence intent to domicile in the incorrect state or county.

For a great many RVers, not all of their worldly possessions will fit in their RVs. Subsequently, they either donate personal property, sell it, give it to friends or family or they store it somewhere. Storing personal property creates a rebuttable presumption that the RVers will return to claim their property, even when they store the items in the garage of a loved one. This is a rebuttable presumptionā€”meaning RVers can overcome this presumption. However, it takes more evidence to establish a cogent, believable argument as to why those possessions are outside their state/county of domicile.

Domicile can be complex and it takes effort to establish and properly maintain it from afar. While there is a myriad of factors that the courts may examine, one factor pointing to the incorrect state/county of domicile, may not destroy a domicile election, unless that factor (for some reason) creates substantial and continuous connection to the wrong state/county. The nuances of domicile should not dissuade anyone from RVing. Rather, properly establishing and maintaining a domicile should provide RVers with a sense of comfort, so that they may fully enjoy the RVing lifestyle.

Securities offered through Securities America, Inc., Member FINRA/SIPC. Advisory services offered through Securities America Advisors, Inc. insurance services offered through Multigenerational Wealth Strategies, LLC, which is not affiliated with Securities America Companies. Legal services offered through Loring & Associates, PLLC, which is not affiliated with Securities America Companies. Although this information has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable, it cannot be guaranteed. This information is not intended to be a substitute for specific individualized tax, legal, or investment planning advice. Individual situations can vary; therefore, the information presented here should only be relied upon when coordinated with individual professional advice.

K. Susie Adams


K. Susie Adams SKP #134068

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 2011ā€“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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Where do you live? Domicile for Full-Time RVers 2

18 Responses

  1. If I have a friend in a state can I use her address and she will forward my mail. Would it be smart to purchase my rv in that state to license it instead of doing it twice ? So confused.

    1. I’ll give you my (non legal) thoughts on how I’m approaching this. I am almost one year into full timing. I still have my same po box in the town I took off from in California. I use a good friend’s home address in the same town for things like credit card accounts, or for anything where I need a physical address. I got rid of ALL of the paper mail I could. I bank online exclusively. I have my mail forwarded to a mail service (switching to Escapees service soon). I get VERY little mail, read most of that after it’s been scanned, and sometimes I’ll have a few things forwarded to me or to my friend’s house.

      I expect that this year I will decide on where my domicile will be. I’ve felt no rush to do that, and I still don’t, but I think that’s coming before too long. Meanwhile my truck is registered at my po box, and my trailer is still licensed in another state where I bought it. I’m not going to do anything in South Dakota, Florida or Texas because I don’t expect to spend any time there. Oregon, Colorado and Nevada are on my maybe list right now. Considerations are cost and ease of registering vehicle and trailer, as well as if I think I’ll actually spend time there. State income taxes are basically a non issue for me, so not a deciding factor. And I also consider that I am a proud Native Californian, I have MANY friends there that I will continue to visit, and I might just keep things they way they are right now.

      I think the real bottom line is that you don’t have to change your domicile soon… or ever. Go travel for a while and see what you think in a few months or a year. Enjoy your travels!!

  2. We’re researching mail forwarding services. We’re FT – without an RV! Now back in the US, we bought a car and are looking at where to establish a domicile and mail forwarding. I’ve just been told by another service in Florida that in accordance with the “Federal Real ID Act” we cannot get a Driver’s License in Florida unless we register a boat or RV in that State. I’ve not found any reference to that on this site. We have a car – doesn’t that qualify?

  3. We (my husband and I) established domicile in South Dakota 3 1/2 years ago. We spent 1 night there, got our driver’s licenses and registered our truck and 5th wheel trailer there. The mailing service we used went out of business a little over a year ago, and we have not been happy with the service we signed up with (NOT Escapees!) We went back to renew our truck registration (again, a 1 day stay). We have spent 2 of the last 3 winters in Texas – and are trying to get a position in a west Texas park for next spring/summer. We have decided that we want to change our domicile to Texas, because we can say (with complete honesty) that we would love to settle there after our wandering is finished. (We cannot see ourselves spending any time in South Dakota). The article mentions state inspection of a vehicle and a motorhome. I expect to have our truck inspected and registered, but is there an inspection needed on our 5th wheel trailer? I understand checking weight limits, but don’t know what else would be inspected. Just curious – we are just trying to avoid surprises whenever possible.

  4. I have a friend that owns a house and lives in Arizona, he has a car registered in Arizona, he bought a motorhome in California and is trying to established a domicile in South Dakota. He has an address in SD now and is in the process of getting his motorhome and car registered in SD. The only thing he is lacking it the payment of sales tax to SD for registration. He says he’s not a big fan of SD but seems to speed more time in Texas due to Texas being close to Arizona you can’t help but spend time in the motorhome in Texas while RVing across the country.
    My friend wants to sell his house and buy a small place for a home base. Should he have a domicile in Texas instead of SD only because he spends more time in Texas and has never seems to pass thru SD on his trips?
    He says registering his motorhome in Arizona would cost $10,000 one time sales tax and about $2000 per year on MH registration only going down about 10% per year. In 5 years he would have spent over $7000 just in yearly registration.
    He says he has only 2 choses, rv in Arizona during the winter months and visit family and friends and have a small home base Domicile in SD, Texas, Florida or any state that has a low vehicle registration yearly cost. Or RV in the summer in and Domicile in the winter somewhere warm. Doesn’t want to be in Arizona during the summer months. Him and his wife are both retired on social security fixed income. He has family in Indiana and Arizona.
    Him and his wife are selling their house in Arizona but will spend the winter months in Arizona and the summer months somewhere else cooler in the summer. What should they do? Is there a better state for them to Domicile too?

    1. Hi there!
      With specific questions like yours, we recommend you reach out to legal counsel directly so all factors can be considered in the discussion. Loring & Associates (who specialize in domicile law) typically offer a free consultation, which sounds like it would be helpful in your case. http://www.loringlaw.com/

  5. We have a question. We are full-timers who sold our home in North Carolina to a friend who takes in our mail and we still list our address as that same place, have no plans to change. She is getting a notice from the Census bureau.
    Our question is, should she count us as “living” there, though we visit maybe 4-5 times/year?

    1. Hi there!
      With specific questions like yours, we recommend you reach out to legal counsel directly so all factors can be considered in the discussion. Loring & Associates (who specialize in domicile law) typically offer a free consultation, which sounds like it would be helpful in your case. http://www.loringlaw.com/

  6. It’s good to know that you do not have an obligation to remain in the county that you have marked as your domicile. I would love to have an RV one day but I was confused how it works. If I can still go wherever I want to then I am okay with that.

  7. We have a question- we sold our home in Texas and have a UPS Store address we rent a yearly box we had many years before selling our home. We travel back and forth between Tennessee Arkansas and Texas but will be venturing out to other states. We tried renewing iur drivers license using the UPS Store as our address and mailing address BUT…. Texas Renewal online knew thr UPS Store was not our main residence and would not let us renew without a physical address even though the UPS Store is considered a physical address for most all other reasons to use it as such. How do we get our licenses renewed if we dont have a home or apt? How do u make them understand our RV ā€œISā€ our home? We own a few lots in Livingston but no mailbox or structure there dont know how to make that work do u have any suggestions?

    1. Unfortunately, plenty of RVers run into that issue when using a business address as their personal address. It’s a common pushback when using USPS PO boxes, UPS boxes, and similar, as they cannot be residential addresses. Our mail-forwarding service is able to avoid this because our customers are also able to live there, since our headquarters is also in an RV campground along with permanent residential properties.
      If you have friends or family in Texas, you can try using their address instead. Quite a few people are able to do this with success if you prefer to not give up your UPS box.

  8. We are going to become full – time in a year & half. So how far in advance should we get a domicile address?

    1. How far in advance is really up to the individual. A couple of things to think about when making that decision for your family are:
      – how many professional/legal/government connections you’ll need to update (those can take a bit of time to sift through!)
      – changing domicile typically requires changing mailing addresses, and in the case of state licenses and registrations, you’ll receive some important items in the mail. Do you want to give yourself enough time to receive all of your new mailed items at your current address, or have them forwarded while you’re on the road?
      – Are you selling or transferring real estate as part of this process?

      If you aren’t sure about how you would answer these, or you have more questions, I strongly encourage you to take advantage of the free consultation offer from Loring & Associates. Many Escapees members have consulted with them and sought their help in figuring out their unique situations. http://www.loringlaw.com/

  9. My husband and I sold our home in Ca and have been full timing since then. We want to buy a newer rv. My question is that on any loan app Iā€™ve ever filled out they ask do you own or rent? How do you answer that question? We own our current rv but I donā€™t think they will accept that. We do have escapees mail service.

    1. Hello Theresa! Just be honest with your loan officer. Tell them you own your RV and that it is your home. If the lending institution rejects your application, try another bank or credit union, especially one you already have a relationship with. Good luck!

  10. Recently banks, financial institutions, and the DMV require two “proof of residence” documents be submitted when opening a new account, renewing your drivers license, and putting in a change of address with the banks.

    These documents must be a utility bill, Internet, or cable bill in your name at the address you’re providing. In other words, a service that is physically tied to the home.

    QUESTION: what documents would Escapees supply to me in order to satisfy the banks and DMV? Thank you!

    1. Hi PJ! Generally, when obtaining a Texas driver’s license, you will use your receipt from registering your vehicle in Polk County and your vehicle insurance policy showing your Rainbow Drive address as your proofs of residency. If there is no vehicle to register, the DMV will accept 2 pieces of mail from a bank/credit card/financial institution as proof of residency. We hope this helps!

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