A New York Administrative Law Judge recently determined that a married couple who purchased a home in Florida in 2013 with the intention of retiring in the state, but retained ties to New York, could not prove that they abandoned their New York domicile in 2014. In arriving at her conclusion the ALJ focused on the taxpayers’ retention of their historic New York home and the fact that they spent more time in New York than they did in Florida in 2014.

The taxpayers argued that they were no longer New York domiciliaries in 2014 because, among other things, (i) the Florida home they purchased was larger and more expensive than their historic New York home, (ii) they registered to vote and changed their drivers’ licenses to Florida, and (iii) they maintained a “near and dear” antique car collection in Florida.

The ALJ, however, determined that the taxpayers failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence that they gave up their New York domicile when they purchased their home in Florida.  Even though the taxpayers took actions aimed at establishing a Florida domicile, the ALJ concluded that the taxpayers failed to provide “credible evidence” establishing that their “general habit of life” reflected an abandonment of their New York domicile.

In New York, the person asserting a change in domicile—in this case, the taxpayers— bears the burden to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the purported change in domicile occurred. In this case the ALJ found that the taxpayers’ evidence “consisted primarily of unsworn statements made in correspondence,” which was insufficient to meet the taxpayers’ burden of proof.  Notably, the ALJ appeared troubled by the fact that the taxpayers’ claimed amount of time spent in New York in 2014 was different than the amount of time they appeared to have actually spent in New York based on cell phone and credit card records.

Matter of Boniface, DTA No. 829018 (N.Y.S. Div. Tax App., ALJ Det’n Apr. 29, 2021)