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Law Library

Establishing Legal Residence

Linscott R. Hanson
Linscott Hanson

Your legal residence is important for any number of reasons, including taxation, rights to vote and hold office, qualification for "in state" tuition benefits and others. If you have lived some place for a long time, residence probably hasn't received your attention lately, but sometimes our clients wish, for one reason or another, to change their legal residence. The question is often asked, "What do I have to do to change my residence?"

Residence is a Matter of Intent

A lawyer's answer is "Residence is a matter of intent." And so it is, but how do you go about proving intent? This can be really important, not only to claim the benefits of residence you are seeking, but to avoid having a "dual residence" subjecting you (or your estate) to tax in more than one State.

Do Some of These Things

To begin, you need an actual place of residence. You can't live in a Post Office Box, although that may be your mailing address. So buy or rent a place to live. Buying is a stronger evidence of intent than renting. Renting by the year or month is stronger than weekly or daily rental. Checking into a local motel or hotel is fairly weak, but not impossible evidence of intent to reside. If you purchase a home or condominium in your new State of residence, check to see if a "homestead" exemption from real estate tax is available, and file for it. Illinois gives homeowners a reduced tax bill on their principal residence. Florida has a "freeze" on assessed value for residents.

If you're eligible to vote, register to vote. If you drive, get a driver's license from your new State of residence, and cancel your old license. If you don't drive, see if the new State issues identification cards to non-drivers to aid in cashing checks. Re-register the title to your automobile(s) in the new State, and get new license plates (tags). Notify the old State to cancel your old plates. Notify your insurance company of your change of residence, and have new identity cards issued. Change the billing address on your auto insurance policy(ies).

Written declaration of residence may be available in your new State. You can also make such a declaration by signing a new Will, declaring your residence, or a Codicil to your existing Will, indicating your new residence.

Change your mailing address. Notify the post office to forward mail to your new residence, and notify banks, stock brokers, dividend and interest payers, as well as creditors (credit card companies, others) of your new address.

If you have a United States Passport, notify the passport agency of your change of residence. When you renew your Passport, do so from the new residence.

If you are on active duty with the U.S. Military, file a DD Form 2058 "State of Legal Residence Certificate," indicating your new residence.

If you are employed, file new W-4 (tax) and I-9 (immigration) forms with your employer, indicating your new residence. File your State and Federal Income Tax returns with your new address, and notify your former State of residence that you have moved.

If moving to a State bordering Mexico, such as Arizona or California, consider getting a Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection (SENTRI) Registration, listing your new residence.

Consider moving your principal bank account to your new State of residence. Physically move your stock certificates and bonds - your entire safe deposit box contents, to your new State of residence. Get check cashing cards from local stores in your new residential city.

You certainly need not do every single thing listed in this article to prove your residence. The more things you can do, the stronger your case for having changed residence.

Dual Residence To Be Avoided

Because having dual residence can mean paying taxes, such as state inheritance or estate taxes to two or more states, it is most important to avoid having a "mixed message" about residence, so there are things NOT to do as well: Don't claim a homestead exemption from real estate tax in two different states. Don't keep driver's licenses from two states. Don't fail to notify the State you're leaving to cancel your voting status.


Residence is a matter of intent, and, with a little effort and planning, you should be able to establish residence where you wish, and secure the tax and other treatment you wish, but be careful to avoid giving more than one State a claim against you in the process. A Checklist is available. Pick the things you are going to do, cross out the others, then follow through.