How to Determine a Decedent's Domicile
Much of estate administration rests on the location of the decedent’s domicile. You must know this location in order to figure out where you must probate the assets and to what state you must pay taxes. Only after you have determined the decedent’s state of domicile can you begin primary probate in the correct court and ancillary administration in any other state where the decedent owned property.
All real estate in the decedent’s state of domicile and all other tangible and intangible assets located anywhere in the United States are subject to probate in the decedent’s state of domicile if all other requirements for probate are met.
In many instances, determining domicile is easy. But in many cases, people own real property in more than one place, and even more than one state, and they pay taxes in more than one state at any given time. If you’re responsible for administering an estate that owns real estate located in multiple places, how do you know where to initiate probate?
The list of items used to determine domicile is long, and far from absolute. Certain items on the list may indicate one legal home, but others may show a different one. You have to make the final determination based on the weight of the evidence. Be prepared to back up your results to the state(s) that loses. For the states in question, large potential tax revenues may lie in the balance.
Evidence used to determine domicile includes the following:
Address of residence where the decedent lived more than 50 percent of the time.
IRS office where tax returns are filed: For example, if you live in Florida, you file your tax returns with the Atlanta office; if you live in Vermont, you file in Andover, Massachusetts.
Place of religious affiliations: Evidence of memberships in churches, synagogues, or mosques can be crucial.
Car registration: People rarely register their cars in a state where they only live part time.
Voter registration: You often have to show proof of residence in order to register to vote.
Address shown on passport: Of course, passport addresses aren’t updated when you move, but if the address matches the domicile you want to establish, so much the better.
Bank accounts established in local banks: With the rise of interstate banking, this isn’t as strong a form of evidence as it once was.
Declarations of homestead are required in some states to protect your primary residence from creditors or to give you a lower tax rate. If you find a declaration of homestead attached to a tax return or in a file somewhere, it can help support your argument that the decedent was domiciled in a particular state.