How to Establish Residency in Florida
Clients often ask us how to establish residency in Florida for asset protection purposes. Generally, only Florida residents may take advantage of Florida’s liberal asset protection laws. For instance, in order to protect money in a Florida homestead property or in other assets protected by Florida statutes, one must first become a Florida resident.
What is Florida Residency?
The term “Florida resident” has different meanings under different parts of Florida law. For asset protection purposes, Florida residency means more than just owning Florida property or having a Florida address. Whether or not you qualify as a permanent Florida resident depends on whether your circumstances and your actions demonstrate your intent to establish a primary place of residence in Florida. When “going home” means you are returning to your residence in Florida and when your personal mail is sent to your Florida address, you are probably a Florida resident.
How Do Courts Decide?
Courts consider all relevant facts and circumstances indicative of a person’s ties to Florida. When determining if a judgment debtor is domiciled in Florida, a court often uses definitions and indications of Florida residence taken from both Florida Statutes and Florida’s administrative code. Florida Statute § 222.17 states that a person can show intent to maintain a Florida residence as a permanent home by filing a sworn Declaration of Domicile with the clerk of the circuit court. The statute does not exclude concurrent ownership of a second residence in another state provided that the primary residence is claimed only in Florida.
Florida Statute § 196.012 defines a permanent residence as “that place where a person has his or her true, fixed, and permanent home and principal establishment to which, whenever absent, he or she has the intention of returning.”
Florida Residency Factors
Important factors that a Florida court will consider in determining a person’s intent to establish permanent Florida residency include:
- Formal declaration of residency (Declaration of Domicile).
- Designated mailing address.
- Informal statements regarding residency.
- Place of employment.
- Termination of previous residency in another state or country.
- Registration to vote in Florida.
- A Florida driver’s license.
- Florida tags on all vehicles.
- Using a Florida address on federal income tax forms.
Naturally, the longer your ties to Florida, the stronger your claim to Florida residency. Moving to Florida requires severing ties to the state you moved from. For example, you should sell your current residence outside Florida, turn in your out-of-state driver’s license, and close your bank accounts in the state where you previously resided. It is difficult to claim Florida residency if your license and vehicle registration are elsewhere.
There is no waiting period to establish Florida residency for asset protection purposes. As soon as you form the intent to make Florida your primary home, you are a Florida resident, and you are entitled to Florida’s asset protection benefits. The rules are different for bankruptcy, however. Bankruptcy law imposes a two-year waiting period before a debtor may claim Florida’s exemptions in bankruptcy court.
When Is it Too Late to Move to Florida?
Many people from all over the country who have current or potential legal problems are interested in moving to Florida to take advantage of Florida’s homestead protection and other asset protection laws. It is never too late to move to Florida to obtain protection from civil liability. Debtors may legally become a Florida resident and protect money invested in a new Florida homestead property even after a money judgment is entered.
There are no civil or criminal penalties for moving to Florida after a creditor files a lawsuit. However, a possible complication exists if another state’s court has issued an injunction against transfer of assets.