Thinking of moving to a tax-advantaged state? Take these steps

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It’s not unusual for wealthy taxpayers to relocate from high-tax states to low-tax states. There’s evidence in population trends: Texas and Florida — neither of which have a state income tax — were the states with the biggest population increases from 2020 to 2021, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau data. Much of that growth is coming at the expense of higher-tax states such as California, New York and Illinois.

These days, it is very common for wealthy families to own residences in more than one state, making relocation even easier. However, the reality is that any state that does have an income tax, and in which an individual owns a home, will have a vested interest in asserting that the residence in their state is that person’s domicile.

In practical terms, having domicile in a state means that state can impose its respective income tax on all the income reflected on the individual’s federal income tax return, regardless of the source of that income. This is one of the principal reasons that many people consider relocating.

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Potentially adding to the trend of such moves is a wave of states’ efforts to find new ways to tax the rich. These bills range from imposing a “wealth tax” on the intrinsic gains from stocks and securities and creating special income tax brackets targeting the rich to reducing exemptions on inheritance taxes.

But before you call the moving van, understand that state taxation, including state income tax as well as state estate and inheritance taxes and potential wealth taxes, is only one factor to consider as you assess changing your domicile.

Other areas to consider include rules that govern asset protection, trust administration, trustee selection and estate administration. Some who redomicile to a state with no income tax may find that they are paying the state in other ways, such as higher inheritance, property and/or fuel taxes.

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That’s why the state you choose as your domicile is such an important decision. That decision is even more challenging considering that states often have different rules defining what they consider domicile.

Some use so-called “bright line” tests; for instance, a certain number of days in and out of the state. Others use a “preponderance of evidence” approach that considers where you vote, where your driver’s license is issued, where your advisors are located and numerous other factors.

Tips for redomiciling ‘the right way’

When I have a client who is serious about changing domiciles, we go through a checklist of the things they should do to prove they have severed the connection to their former state of residence. The more evidence you can produce to show that you are domiciled in, and not just a resident of, your new state, the better off you’ll be, even if it only seems to be supporting evidence. Items to consider include:

Each person has a unique tax situation. Please consult with your financial and tax professionals when considering a change in domicile.

— By Paul J. Ayotte, founding partner and client advisor at Fidelis Capital

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