Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Domicile

We awoke this morning at the Walmart on the west side of Sioux Falls, South Dakota (map). We're in town because we have several housekeeping items to take care of in regards to moving our domicile to South Dakota, and our "home town" of Madison is not big enough to offer all the services we require. That's probably as good a reason as any to focus today's post on what, exactly, is required.

You might think that, having acquired yesterday South Dakota driver licenses and vehicle tags, and submitted our voter registration paperwork, that we're "done" with our official move -- after all, there are really no household possessions to move, as they are already here with us. But establishing a domicile is actually a more complex problem for those of us who live on the road full-time That's because, should the state of domicile ever be called into question, it is important to establish intent, a problem that people who actually settle down in a fixed dwelling in the state do not face.

Legally, one of the most dangerous things a full-timer can do is to bargain-shop each vital element. Nevertheless, we see this all the time, with some folks having their driver license in State A, their motor vehicles registered in State B, and their tax documents and perhaps other mail going to an address in State C. In the Internet age, it might be less of a factor, but maintaining a business relationship, for example with a bank, in State D can further muddy the waters.

What this opens a person up to is a claim by any of States A, B, C, or D that such person is actually a state resident of that state, and therefore subject to state income tax, personal property tax, motor vehicle registration, probate tax, or any number of other state encumbrances that, perhaps, said person had not counted upon. Moreover, beyond any such state pursuing that individual for the revenue supposedly lost, criminal charges can be filed. Think it doesn't happen? The state of Colorado convicted a number of state residents on fraud and tax evasion for titling their RVs in Montana LLCs, thus avoiding Colorado's onerous annual tax on such vehicles.

For this reason, most tax and legal experts agree: When you move to a state, do it lock, stock, and barrel -- don't cherry-pick individual items. So not only do we need to move our driver license, vehicle registration, and voter registration, we now also need to move our estate plan, our finances, and our "backup real estate." This last item might be optional for many, but is not for us, as I will describe shortly. It is also recommended that any club memberships and religious affiliation be moved as well, so, for example, we will be transferring our Elks membership from a lodge in Washington to one here in South Dakota.

And so it was that this morning at 10am we had a meeting scheduled with a law firm here in town that specializes in estate planning. We had previously forwarded to them our extensive estate plan documents from Washington, prepared some eight years ago when we first legally domiciled in that state. As it turns out, every document will need to be rewritten, as Washington is a "community property" state, whereas South Dakota is a "separate property" state. We are more or less starting from scratch, and we'll get a bill from the lawyers commensurate with that.

I might note here that the vehicle registration on Odyssey also tripled here in South Dakota, where fees are assessed based on weight. So the move was by no means free, and was not undertaken lightly. We are making this change because it will most likely save us money over the long haul, especially as we transition, at some yet-to-be-determined later point, to a life on the water from our life on the road.

We picked the Walmart on the west of town for last night's stop because it was just five minutes from the attorneys' office. As a bonus, there were several restaurants in walking distance, and we ended up at our old stand-by, Olive Garden. We arrived shortly before dinner, as checkout time at Lake Herman park was 4pm, and we stayed nearly till then to take advantage of the hookups. This morning we rolled over to the law office in time for our meeting, parking on the street just outside the building.

We met with the estate planner for a little over an hour, and they expect to have the documents completed in about six weeks. Unfortunately, that will necessitate another visit here. There's no way we can hang around for six weeks, and we can't sign the documents anyplace else, a legal quirk of estate planning. So sometime in the next few months, we'll have to either return here either in Odyssey, or else find someplace convenient from which to fly in for the day.

After we finished with the estate planner we came back to the bus, ate a little lunch, and ran over the estate plan issues with our financial planner by phone. We did not cut the check to the attorneys until our CFP had blessed everything, at which point I carried the check and signed agreement back into the office. While we were sitting in the cockpit getting ready to leave, engine idling, Louise spotted the Keller Williams real estate sign right in front of us, not 500' away in the adjoining business park. I turned off the engine.

As it turns out, we'd been in touch with a realtor from Sioux Falls yesterday, while we were sitting at Lake Herman for the afternoon. Whereas we got the estate planning referral from the Escapees bulletin board, the realtor referral came in a more serendipitous way -- while we were having dinner at the Dakotah Steak House in Rapid City, our server Kellie struck up a conversation with us about where we were headed and somehow it came out that we needed a realtor in Sioux Falls. Coincidentally, her father owned a real estate firm here that just merged with Keller Williams. She gave us his number, and that's whom we spoke with yesterday.

Knowing we were about to drive five miles to our next stop, the Walmart on the east side of town (map), we decided to call again and see if this was, in fact, his office. It was, indeed, and so we locked the bus and walked the 500' or so to the office. He'd already started working on our request, and was able to show us specs on several properties in the area meeting our needs. It was very kind of him to interrupt his day on short notice to meet with us.

Now, about that property: In Washington, we bought a small, undeveloped parcel of land back when we first domiciled there. We really had no choice, as Washington law prohibits voter registration at a mail receiving service, such as the one we use for our address. We wanted to register to vote, of course, and we really needed to solidify our intent to no longer be Californians at the time. That was, back then, the only reason we needed it, but since then it has come in handy twice more.

The first was when Washington clamped down on drivers in the smog-surcharged counties surrounding Seattle who were evading the smog surcharge by registering their vehicles in non-surcharged counties by getting mailboxes in those counties. The way they clamped down was to make it illegal to use a mail service for vehicle registrations. They made an exception for anyone whose residence address, for whatever reason, had no mail delivery, in which case you still had to list the residence address on the paperwork. Our property can't receive mail (the post office won't deliver if there is no structure on it, mailbox or not, but then again they won't deliver to your house if your dog ever bit a mail carrier, either), but it's a legal address.

South Dakota does not have this issue: they are more than happy to let us full-timers register our vehicles and get our driver licenses at a mail service. But there is no escaping the more recent incursion: The PATRIOT act. This piece of invasive legislation requires banks and financial institutions to know unequivocally where you live, and a mailbox at a mail receiving service or the US Post Office does not qualify. We were horrified to discover one of our bank accounts frozen last year, and when we called in they told us they could not unfreeze it until we gave them a residential address -- their database software knew that our "unit number" address was a mail receiving service and not, for example, an apartment or condo.

Now, we could have given them any residential address in the country to satisfy this requirement, such as one of our parents' homes, or the home of a friend. They don't need to send us anything there -- they have a different mailing address for us. But see above: our parents live in California and New Jersey, and while we have friends all over the country, few are in Washington and none is in South Dakota. We did not want to link ourselves, even through this one detail, to any other state (and especially not California, or New Jersey). Fortunately, we were able to give them the address of our little plot of land in Washington and that took care of it.

And so we find ourselves in need of the same token property here in South Dakota, and it was this which had us in the real estate office for another hour this afternoon. Our requirements are pretty specific, which is to say it must have a valid street address, no structures, and be inexpensive to buy and to hold. We left the office with spec sheets on five properties, all within an hour of Sioux Falls.  In addition to helping us comply with banking requirements, this will also give us a chip in the South Dakota real estate market; when the time comes to stop roaming and settle down, we can develop the property, or leverage it to a different property more suitable to our needs.

When we wrapped up there, we came the five miles to this Walmart to regroup. In addition to being pretty much the only other free overnight spot in town, it was also on our way out of town in the direction of our next stop, Minneapolis. That said, we'll be heading right back the way we came tomorrow, ending up at the Enterprise Car Rental right across the street from the same Walmart where we spent last night. We've decided to spend tomorrow on the grand tour of the Sioux Falls environs, looking first-hand at the five properties on our list. It would be a shame to have been within easy driving distance of all of them, yet offer on one sight unseen. Driving to all of them in the bus would cost two or three times as much as renting a car.

The other detail that has been occupying our attention for the last two days is insurance. Yesterday I called both our coach insurer and our scooter insurer. Moving the scooters was a slam-dunk, but we're going to have to get Odyssey re-appraised for the coverage rewrite, something we are not looking forward to. And our health insurance is another matter altogether.

Our current health insurance plan is specific to Washington, and that company does not write in South Dakota. So we are back to square one on that front as well, sifting through the morass of insurance company legalese and weasel-words and trying to suss out what will and will not be covered in the very small number of plans available to us. This is another area where Washington wins over South Dakota, inasmuch as Washington went through a round of health care reform some time ago that eliminated some of the prejudicial practices of the underwriters. If any of our readers has a high-deductible, HSA-qualified plan in South Dakota with which they are happy, drop us a note and let us know whom you're with.

So on day two of our residency, we are very happy South Dakotans, but keenly aware that the clock is ticking on these important legal matters. Insurance companies generally give you 30 days' grace, and we need to nail down the health insurance and motor coach coverage within that time.

When we are done gallivanting around the southeastern part of the state by rental car tomorrow, we'll maybe drive downtown to see the falls and find a nice restaurant for our final night here, which we'll likely spend back at the Walmart across the street from Enterprise. We'll turn the car back in first thing Friday morning and head northeast to Minneapolis, where we are scheduled to meet our niece for an afternoon before she hustles off to Spanish-language camp elsewhere in the state. We also have some friends who are in the process of moving to Minneapolis, but we're not sure if they've arrived in town yet. If so, we'll try to see them.

10 comments:

  1. Wow, being a legal full-timer in the US is so much easier, less convoluted, and limited than in Canada, and you guys have way more options.

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    1. Very true, Rae. At least you Canadians don't face the same health care challenges. And you can get Star Choice :)

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  2. Nice discussion of residency for full timers. I didn't know about the Patriot Act and its ramifications for those that can't list an actual street and mailbox number as a residence. But as an accountant by trade before I retired, I am aware of the states attempts to grab former residents as their own when it comes to any affiliation that might remain, such as church, and financial institutions. I even wonder about those of us that actually moved our homes owned to another state but left a bank account behind. Especially California! I think you are wise to completely leave Washington with every scrap of connection, and hope your property there sells in a timely fashion. But purchase of a replacement in SD now should show intent as you correctly surmise. Good luck.....

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    1. Rod, you are correct that even people making physical moves of fixed residences face some of these issues. The Coloradans who were arrested were not full-timers but actually had homes there. Since many of our readers are full-timers or aspire to that, I focused on that aspect of it.

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  3. Very interesting blog. You twice stated or implied that in the long run, it is financially advantageous for you to be SD residents. What about SD is so much less expensive than Washington--especially since you have to buy property as well? Also, I can well imagine you do not want to have any link to NJ taxes (all my links are in NJ, oy!) but is that the only reason why this would not be a good state for a legal domicile? Since we have property here, including a potential "retirement home", even if we are able to FT for a few years, we would likely have to come back here. I'm wondering if there are any other notable handicaps to that.

    As always, thanks for being so generous with your info!

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    1. Debbie, sorry for the delay. I had typed up a fairly lengthy response to your comment shortly after you posted it, and it all disappeared when our Internet glitched just as I hit "publish." I meant to get back to it and re-type at the next stop, but lost track.

      The short answer to your question on why SD over WA is that we are planning to move from our bus to a boat sometime within the next year or so. While WA has been great, financially, for full-timing in a bus, since we are seldom there and thus are not hit with the state's high sales tax, it is much less favorable when living aboard a boat. Not only would we have to pay the 8.5% sales tax on the purchase of the boat, but there is also an annual ad valorem tax on boats. SD, on the other hand, has more reasonable boat license fees and a much lower sales tax rate. Our annual RV registration went up, though.

      With regard to NJ, having grown up there, I can say that it has among the highest taxes in the nation, as well as some of the most byzantine laws. That said, if you are keeping your property there, you are probably stuck with it. You might do the math on what it would cost to leave the state and then come back later, vs. remaining a NJ resident the whole time.

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  4. Greg and Mandy FaureJun 14, 2012, 10:22:00 AM

    Sean -- Interesting post, but I have to observe that as full-timers and SD residents for the last 5 years, neither Charles Schwab, Wells Fargo, or Bank of America has indicated any issue with our mail forwarding address in Sioux Falls. We just recently renewed our drivers licenses, and spent some time chatting with our mail forwarder, and nothing was said about this issue -- and they're pretty good at pointing out any possible or potential full-timer issues. If you have the time, we'd recommend you contact Gina Shaver at Epic Insurance (605-271-8100) in Sioux Falls for your coach coverage. She has helped us and a number of other full-timers in getting linked up with vehicle insurance. As far as health coverage is concerned, we're both finally on Medicare, but the last 7 years trying to maintain and pay for individual coverage has been a real hassle. We were covered by two different companies, neither of which I'd recommend, given the poor service and we-don't-give-a-damn attitude, but unfortunately they were the only ones which we could get coverage through. Its a small market in SD and you don't have many choices.

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    1. Greg and Mandy -- As the person who got the phone call from the bank telling us our account had been suspended, I'll say I'm glad it didn't happen to you! No fun at all. The bank in question was ING, and when I spoke to them I could hear the guy typing our address into his computer and waiting for it to check the status. He said the UPS store showed as "commercial" and was therefore unacceptable. I'm sure if I had given him the My Dakota Address, it would have also come up as commercial.

      We told this story to Teri Lund at My Dakota Address, and she said it wasn't the first she had heard of it and that she would warn her customers in the future. I really don't think it is a Washington vs. South Dakota issue; rather, ING may be more vigilant because they are themselves a "virtual" entity with no physical locations and therefore more subject to PATRIOT Act scrutiny.

      That being said, it came out of the blue with no warning from ING and could hit any other bank next.

      The point is, it now official has impacted a fellow full-timer and we felt it was a good idea to warn others.

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    2. Louise - Thanks for the additional information -- I guess we'll just have to wait and see what happens. Although this is the first we've heard of financial institutions checking addresses, our experience in getting health insurance in SD involved address discrimination. Blue Cross in SD will not write you a policy (or transfer one from another state) if your address is a mail forwarding service. They specifically have the address of Alternative Resources in Sioux Falls "blocked" and refused us coverage because of that. I'm sure they have other blocked addresses in their database also. Fortunately our agent was able to find us companies (Celtic Insurance and Golden Rule/United Health Care) who did not have that restriction, but as I'd mentioned earlier, we were very disappointed with their customer service and would not recommend them unless you can't find anything else. Its a moot point now, as I've been on Medicare for a year, and Mandy's final Celtic premium is next month.

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  5. Wow! Thanks for sharing this info! As one who hasn't considered the full implications of full-timing - but aspires to the lifestyle - I found this tremendously useful.

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