How to Officially Become a Florida Resident

How to Change Your Official Domicile to Florida

The place where you live with the intention that it's going to be your permanent residence for an indefinite period of time is referred to as your "domicile." It determines what state you must pay taxes to, and it can make you eligible for state programs and benefits. But what happens if you have more than one home?

If your time is spent in Florida and one or more other states during the year, you must choose one state and clearly indicate your choice of domicile by establishing key relationships to and with that state. You should be able to persuade your former state of domicile that you have, in fact, abandoned your domicile in that state and that you've established your new domicile in Florida. 

All this involves taking several steps, and the more the better. 

File a Florida Declaration of Domicile

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A Florida "Declaration of Domicile" is a document that allows you to declare that you are a bona fide resident of Florida because you reside in and maintain a place of residence there. You intend to maintain the residence as your permanent home.

You must declare in the document whether you maintain another place or places of residence in some other state or states. If so, you must 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 the deputy clerk of a Florida court. It must then be recorded in the public records of the Florida county where you reside. There's a minimal fee for recording.

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.

Obtain a Florida Driver's License

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You must have a valid Florida driver's license if you drive. If you don't have one but declare Florida as your residence, it will provide evidence to the state you're trying to cut ties with that you haven't officially moved.

You have 30 days to get one after you file your Declaration of Domicile. 

Your driver's license from your former state will be confiscated by the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles when you apply. You won't be able to have two licenses...at least from Florida's perspective.

You'll need proof of your Social Security number and two documents that show your Florida address. 

If you don't drive, consider getting a Florida non-driver ID card instead. 

Register Your Vehicles

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You should also register your automobiles, boats, and other vehicles that are located in Florida with the Department of Motor Vehicles. Florida requires that you take your vehicle to the DMV office for verification of the vehicle identification number. 

And don't neglect to insure your vehicles in Florida. You'll need proof of this for the DMV as well. 

Register to Vote in Florida

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Register to vote in Florida...then actually do so in the first available election. Registering is good, but actually voting is even better. Remember that voter registration books close 30 days before an election. 

You can accomplish this when you get your driver's license or non-driver ID card. The DMV should provide you with a voter registration form at the same time. If not, ask for one. 

Open Local Bank Accounts

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Transfer at least one out-of-state account to a Florida banking institution. It's a good idea to do this with all your financial accounts, although some might be located in states you never lived in. This is OK. Just make sure those in your old state or states of residence are transferred. 

Notify Tax Officials

Tax Time
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File final income tax returns in any states where you're required to pay income taxes. Notify those state taxing officials of your move to Florida.

List your Florida address as your residence for federal income tax purposes, then file your return with the Internal Revenue Service Center in Charlotte, NC 28201.

You should also notify the Social Security Administration of your new Florida address.

Apply for the Florida Homestead Exemption

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Apply for the Florida homestead exemption if you purchase a home rather than rent one. This will help to establish your domicile in Florida and it will also provide real estate tax benefits and asset protection.

The Florida Save Our Home Act provides that if you qualify for a homestead exemption, $50,000 of your assessed property value is exempt from taxation. If property taxes are imposed by a school district, the exemption is $25,000. And your property's assessed value is limited to 3% increases per year. 

Update Your Estate Plan

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Now that you're a Florida resident, Florida law will govern your estate planning documents. Florida also enacted a new power of attorney law in October 2011 that you'll want to be aware of.

It's a bit different from power of attorney laws in other states, and Florida also has some quirky laws with regard to who can be your personal representative, also known as an executor, and who you can and can't leave your primary homestead residence to. So it's important to use Florida professionals, such as attorneys, accountants, and financial advisors, to draft these updated documents whenever possible.

These professionals will understand the ins and outs of the Florida laws that will affect your estate planning, tax planning, and investments.

Remember to Cut Ties With Your Old State

The good news is that if you declare yourself to be a Florida resident, Florida will be happy to have you. The bad news is that if the state you're leaving collects a state income tax or a state estate tax, you'll have to take specific steps to terminate your "resident status" there to confirm your change of residence. It's more likely that your Florida domicile will be respected if you're able to accomplish most of the items on the checklist.