Posts Tagged ‘Domicile’

Gilbert Hyatt (Mostly) Wins at Board of Equalization; What This Teaches Us About Moving from California

Thursday, August 31st, 2017

Remember Gilbert Hyatt? He’s the microprocessor inventor who made a fortune and then moved to no-tax Nevada from high-tax California, but California’s Franchise Tax Board (FTB) said didn’t move. The case has gotten to the US Supreme Court twice, and there’s still a related civil case at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The underlying tax audit–an audit that began in 1993–was (mostly) resolved in Mr. Hyatt’s favor yesterday at California’s Board of Equalization.

Let me first start with the basic history of the case. Gilbert Hyatt invented (and patented) items related to microprocessors in 1990. He realized he would owe 10% of his very large upcoming income to California if he remained in the state, so in October 1991 he moved to Nevada. In 1993, the FTB audited Mr. Hyatt (the FTB is California’s income tax agency), alleging he didn’t move from California until April 1992. The FTB alleged he owed taxes on $5.4 million plus fraud penalties of another $5.4 million.

The FTB, as part of its investigation, skirted the law in Nevada. They rummaged through Mr. Hyatt’s garbage, and (as found by a jury here in Nevada) committed fraud. The first Supreme Court decision, in 2003, allowed Mr. Hyatt to sue the FTB in court in Nevada alleging that the FTB committed a wide range of torts. The FTB argued because the FTB is immune from lawsuits in California it could not be sued in Nevada; the FTB lost that argument.

The case went to trial, and Mr. Hyatt was awarded $400 million (including punitive damages). The FTB appealed, and the Nevada Supreme Court lowered the damages. The FTB appealed again to the US Supreme Court; the Supreme Court ruled that damages are limited to what could be awarded against a Nevada agency (something less than $100,000).

Meanwhile, Mr. Hyatt’s audit results were appealed to the Board of Equalization in the mid 1990s. Yesterday, some twenty years later, the BOE finally heard the case. (The BOE hears appeals from the FTB. However, beginning January 1, 2018 the BOE will no longer hear such appeals.) After a 13-hour hearing, the BOE ruled 4-1 that there was no fraud; the BOE ruled 3-2 that Mr. Hyatt moved to Nevada in October 1991 (as he had said). However, the BOE also ruled that Mr. Hyatt conducted his business primarily out of California after his move to Nevada in 1991. It’s likely Mr. Hyatt owes taxes on somewhere between $1 and $2 million (plus interest and penalties). This decision could be appealed into the California court system by either side.


More interestingly to blog readers, what does this teach us about changing your domicile from one state to another?

1. Really Move. This sounds basic, but tax agencies don’t like it when you say you move from their high-tax jurisdiction to a low-tax one. If you suddenly come into income, you’re far more likely to be audited, and if the tax agency discovers you’re using your friend’s house in your old hometown to conduct business they won’t be happy. If possible, don’t keep an address in your old state; simply have forwarding orders with the post office.

2. Do the Little Things. There are a lot of things involved when you move, but if you may be a subject of a residency audit it pays to do them. Register to vote in your new city. Make sure you register your car(s), and get a new driver’s license. Yes, the DMV isn’t fun but you need to do this. Change your address with your financial institutions. Have utility bills in your name. Find a new house of worship in your new home. The list is lengthy, but the more you do the easier a residency audit will be.

3. Document, Document, Document. One of my favorite sayings is that if you keep good records an audit is an annoyance; if you don’t keep good records an audit is a painful annoyance. You need to double or triple that for a residency audit.

The last residency audit I was involved with was for a couple that moved from New York to Las Vegas. They really moved and had all their documents. New York alleged that because they didn’t buy a new home for six months after they moved to Las Vegas they were still New York residents. However, the couple (and their children) really did move: There was a lease for their rental home, private school receipts from here, voter registration cards, etc. The couple won the residency audit.

4. Stay Around. You need to stay in your new tax home for four months (minimum)–six months or longer is far better–or your old home could say you haven’t changed your domicile (the place you intend to return to). Indeed, if you can avoid your old home for a year that’s far better.

5. California Tries to Exhaust Litigation Opponents. If you end up in a fight with California one component of the state’s strategy is to financially exhaust opponents. Mr. Hyatt’s dispute began in 1993. It is now 2017. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s still litigation involved with the dispute into the next decade. Most individuals in fights with the FTB don’t have the resources that Gilbert Hyatt has. It’s very easy to have a Pyrrhic victory in a fight with a tax agency.

There’s a lot more involved when you change your residency. Realize if you’re a high-income individual and you move from California to Nevada you’ve painted a target on your back. If you really do move, do the little things and keep good records.

Home Is Where the Family Is

Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

Last week there was an interesting case out of Iowa regarding domicile. A man was working in South Dakota but his family home was in Iowa. He decided to file as a South Dakota resident. Could it be that South Dakota’s 0% state income tax rate was more appealing than Iowa’s 8.9% rate? Perhaps I’m too cynical (not).

In any case, the taxpayer lost because he did many of the things that are necessary wrong. For those wondering about domicile cases, Joe Kristan’s report on the case is must reading.