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Where Is My Estate Located If I Own Residences in Different States?


The process of administering a probate estate is closely tied to location. In Florida, a probate estate is normally opened in the county where the deceased individual resided. But what about someone who owns homes in multiple states–or even multiple countries? How does the executor know where to open the estate?

Domicile vs. Residence

This is where it is important to distinguish between “residence” and “domicile.” Basically, a person can reside in many states but can only be domiciled in one place. And your estate is normally probated in the state of domicile.

Again, in most cases determining the state of domicile is not especially difficult. Let’s say Joan lives in Florida most of the year but has a vacation home in the Bahamas. If Joan dies while staying at the Bahamas home, her estate would still be domiciled in Florida, as that is the place she treated as her “primary and permanent home.”

But what if you split a roughly equal amount of time living in, say, Florida and New York? Determining domicile in that case may require a probate court to consider other factors. For instance, in what state did you keep your driver’s license? Did you claim the Florida homestead exemption? And of course, did you state your domicile as Florida in your will?

How a Trust Affects Domicile

Something else to keep in mind is that regardless of domicile, property that is physically located in a non-domicile state must be probated under that state’s laws. In other words, if you were domiciled in Florida at the time of your death but maintained a second residence in New York, your personal representative will need to open an ancillary (secondary) probate proceeding in New York. The Florida probate would still be considered “primary” and all of your intangible assets, such as bank accounts and stocks, would go through the Florida proceeding.

Contact the Kuhn Law Firm Today to Speak with a Lee County, Florida, Estate Planning Attorney

If you are concerned about the prospect of a multi-state probate proceeding after your death, you may wish to consider creating a revocable trust as part of your estate plan. Assets you place into a trust are not considered part of your probate estate. This means you can take assets situated in multiple states and place them under the legal authority of a trustee who is only subject to one state’s laws. Additionally, you are generally free to decide which state’s laws and courts should have jurisdiction over the trust.

Of course, creating a trust has other implications for your estate. This is why you should always work with a qualified Fort Myers estate planning attorney before creating a trust or revising your will. Contact the Kuhn Law Firm, P.A., at 239-333-4529 today to schedule a free confidential consultation with a member of our estate planning team.

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