Splitting Time Between States to Pay Less Tax

If you try to play it both ways, expect your old state to try to keep taxing you.

Q. What do you think about wealthy people who move their legal residency to Florida to avoid the income and estate taxes levied by the northern states where they have lived their whole lives? I have several friends who are doing this, but as far as I can tell, they still have deep ties to their old home states. Seems like they’re gaming the system.

A. To me, citizens have not just a legal obligation but an ethical imperative to support the local and state governments where they actually live and where they enjoy the civic benefits those governments provide. On the other hand, people have every right to pursue their financial self-interest by moving to a lower-tax state—especially one with a climate as nice as Florida’s most of the year—as long as it’s an authentic change of residency and not just a tax dodge.

I take issue, ethically, with folks who try to have it both ways: meticulously dividing their time almost equally between residences in Florida and their original home state, maintaining old relationships (social, civic, cultural) in the latter, and paying very little tax to either state—in most cases, just the property tax on a home in each jurisdiction. To justify the benefits of paying much less total tax, there should be some personal sacrifice involved: severing old ties and putting down deep and expensive roots in the new community.

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It’s not enough to simply meet the minimal legal test for not filing a tax return in your former home state: not spending more than 182 nights a year there. You should also shift your voting, civic commitments, financial assets and charitable giving to your new state. If you maintain a residence in your former state, it should feel like a second home, not a principal residence filled with your favorite clothing, art and personal papers. If you try to play it both ways, expect your old state to try to keep taxing you.

Have a money-and-ethics question you’d like answered in this column? Write to editor in chief Knight Kiplinger at ethics@kiplinger.com.

Knight Kiplinger
Editor Emeritus, Kiplinger

Knight came to Kiplinger in 1983, after 13 years in daily newspaper journalism, the last six as Washington bureau chief of the Ottaway Newspapers division of Dow Jones. A frequent speaker before business audiences, he has appeared on NPR, CNN, Fox and CNBC, among other networks. Knight contributes to the weekly Kiplinger Letter.