Lessons on Domicile from In re Estate of Helms

In March 2019, the Supreme Court of Nebraska affirmed the decisions of a county court in the case of In re Estate of Helms. Many years after Helms was killed in a terrorist bomb, his estate obtained a wrongful death judgment in federal court finding that Helms was a domicile in North Carolina and that damages would be distributed in the manner permitted by North Carolina law A dispute, however, arose about whether North Carolina or Nebraska law applied to Helm’s case A county court later ruled that the Helms’ case should be divided in accordance with North Carolina, and this decision was then affirmed by the state’s Supreme Court.


While the Helms case reflects the problems that can arise in deciding what state probate laws should apply to a case, there is also a risk that a person could be double taxed if that individuals maintains a residence in multiple states. As a result, this article reviews some of the most important things about domicile that you should remember when it comes to estate planning.


Creating or Changing a Domicile


There are some important steps that a person can take to establish their domicile. A person will be determined to have begun establishing a domicile when that person first occupies a property. In situations where one person marries an individual that lives in another state, a person is often able to declare the spouse’s domicile as their own. If a person moves between areas, domicile can be particularly difficult to determine.


Some of the factors that will influence how a person’s domicile is interpreted include the following:


  • Whether a person sold their residence in the state of their previous domicile
  • The state where a person’s significant business contacts are located
  • Where a person’s real and tangible property are located
  • Where a person’s family is located
  • Where a person spends the majority of their time

Signs of a person’s intent to remain in an area can also influence a person’s domicile. As a result, courts sometimes factors like where a person’s motor vehicle is license and where a person is registered to vote.


Issues involved with Domicile and Estate Planning


A determination of domicile will influence where a person’s will is probated. If a person dies with an uncertain domicile, it is likely that several states will pursue a claim that the estate should be taxed and probated there. Because estate tax laws vary by state, findings of domicile can have a substantial effect on how a person’s estate is ultimately divided.


Decisions about domicile can also influence how property ownership is treated. As a result, it is critical for all estate plans to make sure that your place of domicile is clearly defined before your death.


Speak with an Experienced Estate Planning Lawyer

There are a number of complex issues that can arise in estate planning. To make sure that these obstacles are successfully, it is often a wise idea to speak with an experienced estate planning lawyer Contact Ettinger Estate Planning to schedule a free initial consultation.

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