You don’t have to be a tax lawyer to know that the way to avoid becoming a resident of California is to spend less than six months here. Right? Well, not exactly. The “six-month presumption,” as it’s called, which is mentioned in one form or another in almost every Google search result of California residency rules, isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. That’s not to say the amount of time spent in California doesn’t play an important role in determining legal residency. It does. But the real rule is more complex. In fact, relying on the six-month figure as somehow magical can get a nonresident in tax trouble.
What Is the Six-Month Presumption?
The six-month presumption is established by regulation. You would think it says something simple like: if you spend no more than six months in California, you’re not a resident. That’s the popular online version. And frankly it’s the version many auditors for the Franchise Tax Board (California’s taxing authority) seem to have in mind. But that’s not the legal rule.
Rather, the rule has various qualifiers: if a taxpayer spends an aggregate of six months or less in California, and is domiciled in another state, and has a permanent abode in the domicile state, and does nothing while in California other than what a tourist, visitor, or guest would do, then there is a rebuttable presumption of nonresidency. What would a tourist, visitor or guest do? According to the regulations, nothing much more than own a vacation home, have a local bank account for local personal expenses, and belong to a “social club” (read country club).
These qualifiers call for some parsing. Continue reading →