Domicile for RVers: Does It Matter? It’s unlikely that you’ve been sitting around a campfire outside your RV with friends asking each other, “Where are you currently domiciled?”
This legal concept is not part of our everyday thoughts, conversations, or interactions, but it could have a very important effect on some unexpected circumstances.
Now that you’re intrigued, let’s learn a little more about this legal jargon and its potential impact on you and your family.
What Does Domicile Mean? Domicile Definition
First, many will likely want to know, “What is domicile?” For our friends and neighbors, it is generally synonymous with the fixed locale of a person’s primary residence.
For most individuals in the United States that own or rent a single house that is affixed to real property, the concept of domicile is most likely a settled afterthought. Thus, when you ask someone in the general population where they live, most of the time their answer will also reveal their domicile.
For full-time RVers, the domicile concept is not as easily settled by this line of questioning.
Domicile for Full-Time RVers
The question of domicile is generally not governed by statute, but rather it is a concept defined by case law and by examining the facts/circumstances/intent of the parties in each case.
Each individual state has its own definition or nuances but the foundational concepts surrounding the definition of a domicile will most likely overlap. Given that I am a licensed attorney in Texas, the general concepts in this article are based on Texas law but will hopefully provide an informative foundation for your research.
While there is no universally-accepted definition of domicile, it is a concept that requires an examination of numerous factors to determine the place where one intends to call home.
It’s a place where a person has been physically present and intends to return and remain—simply put, a person’s permanent abode. Thus, the two overarching factors are a physical presence and a truthful intent about where you are planning to make your home.
This concept can seem somewhat like fitting a square peg into a round hole for a full-time RVer, someone who likely wants to be the square peg—having the freedom to avoid the traditional restraints of a less adventurous lifestyle. However, it’s because of this freedom and frequent travel that makes the choice of domicile that much more important for an RVer.
It is important to proactively make the choice of where you would like to establish domicile. If you do not affirmatively take the steps necessary to choose where your domicile will be, a court or state taxing agency may make the decision for you. Thus, take a few moments to analyze your current domicile and make sure it reflects the location where you truthfully intend it be.
Why Domicile Matters
As with many things in life, questions about one’s domicile may come in to focus when money is involved. And, usually, it has the tendency to crop up at a most inconvenient time or during an unexpected circumstance.
For example, domicile is important for both property and medical insurance purposes.
For vehicle insurance, if you ever find yourself in the unfortunate situation of being involved in an accident, the last thing you would want to hear from your insurance company is that they are refusing coverage because you are no longer (or were never) domiciled where you purchased coverage.
Additionally, the availability of health insurance, from the type of insurance available to the scope of coverage, is also affected by one’s domicile. You do not want to have a circumstance where your health insurer is attempting to deny coverage for pressing medical bills due to this issue.
Another example of where domicile may matter involves the always unpleasant interaction with state taxing authorities. It could be that a state sends a notice seeking the recovery of “unpaid” income or property taxes in a state that you previously lived.
If so, it will be very important to have sufficient documentary evidence to prove that you abandoned your domicile in that state and that you have firmly reestablished your domicile elsewhere.
The issue can also arise in several other contexts, including but not limited to the following:
- A) where a lawsuit may be filed by you or against you;
- B) exercising your right to vote—establish the proper location for voter registration;
- C) the applicable law for the disposition of assets after one’s death.
Additionally, your domicile has become an acute topic during the recent pandemic, potentially affecting your ability to travel between certain states or receiving medical testing or vaccinations. As you will note, each of these situations can have a profound impact on you.
What to Consider When Claiming Domicile
Again, each state may have slightly different requirements, but for Texas it is the quality of contacts you establish with the state and your intent to call Texas your home that matters most.
A good first step is establishing a mailing address in the state so that you can begin the process of vehicle registration, insurance and obtaining a driver’s license.
Other factors to consider are establishing voter registration, professional connections (e.g., your doctor, dentist, financial advisors, attorneys) and social connections (e.g. club or church memberships, library membership).
To firmly establish a new domicile, it is a good idea to leave a firm paper record that illustrates your truthful intentions to abandon your prior domicile and establish a new one.
If there is ever a question posed about the location of your domicile, you don’t want to be “straddling the state line” between two states or finding yourself in a legal gray area; rather you want to be sure that you have proactively taken steps to solidify and exemplify your truthful intentions.
Ultimately, domicile does matter and taking a few moments to examine your current situation may just be that ounce of prevention that could be worth a pound of cure later on.
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Samuel L. Burk
Samuel L. Burk is an attorney licensed in Texas and a partner of East Texas Legal, P.L.L.C. Samuel helps clients with their estate planning needs and questions about domicile. He attended Rice University and graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in economics. He received his law degree from Duke University School of Law graduating with honors. https://eastexlegal.com/