How to Change Your State of Legal Residence

By Scott Thompson
a couple sitting on porch with moving boxes

Defines "state of residence" and explains how to legally change your state of residence for voting and tax purposes.

Changing your state of legal residence is surprisingly easy, but proving that you have done so is not quite as easy. To become a legal resident of a particular state, all you have to do is move to that state with the intention of staying there. The issue is proving your intent to stay, as no single action can prove your intent on its own.

Importance of Legal Residence

Each state has its own rules for determining whether you must pay state income tax as a resident, so you should check with your state revenue department to find out the rules in the state you live in.

However, state income tax requirements are a separate issue from establishing your state of legal residence, which is important in several ways. You can only vote or hold public office in your state of residence, and state colleges typically offer reduced tuition for state residents only. You might not be able to receive welfare benefits in the state you live in unless you are a legal resident. If you have a will, it can only be probated in your state of residence. If you have dual residence in two states, you may be required to pay estate or inheritance taxes in both.

The Internal Revenue Service's home sale exclusion rules define principal residence by a combination of factors, including driver's license, car registration and voter registration. Many of the actions required to establish your state of legal residence would also establish your primary residence for federal tax purposes.

Defining Legal Residence

You can move anywhere you want to in the United States with no legal restrictions, but simply moving to a new state doesn't necessarily make it your state of legal residence. For instance, a soldier from New Hampshire may be assigned to a military base in California for 25 years, but if he plans to go back to New Hampshire as soon as he gets out of the Army, then he is legally a resident of New Hampshire even if he never visits home.

Residence is defined primarily by your intentions, according to an article by attorney Linscott R. Hanson. If you live in Maine and never intend to move from Maine, then it is your state of legal residence. If you live in Maine but plan to move back to Massachusetts, then Maine is not your state of legal residence.

Proving Legal Residence

Since no one other than you can know your true intentions, proving that you are a resident of a particular state can get complicated. If you are a member of the United States military, you can legally change your state of residence by filing DD Form 2058 with the finance office, but otherwise you may have to take several steps to indicate your intent. Even if you are a member of the military, it's important not to contradict yourself if you want to legally establish residence. For instance, you shouldn't vote in one state while driving on a license from another state. Never claim to be a resident of one state for one purpose and another state for another purpose, as this could establish dual residency.

Actions that can help prove your intent to establish legal residence include:

  • Changing your voter registration to the new state.
  • Changing your driver's license or state identification card.
  • Registering your car and changing the license plates.
  • Changing your car insurance.
  • Having your mail forwarded to your new state.
  • Filing federal and state taxes in your new state.
  • Buying property such as a house in the new state.

None of these actions on its own will necessarily be enough to establish residency, but residency can be established without doing everything on this list. Because residency is based on your intentions, you should think of these steps as ways to demonstrate your real intentions.