Client Guide: Domicile

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Domicile is an important legal concept when it comes to preparing Wills and administering estates of people who have died.  It can also determine how much of an estate is liable to Inheritance Tax.

Domicile is quite complicated to explain but basically you are domiciled in the country in which you have your permanent home.  That does not mean it is the country in which you normally reside, as you may reside in one country for some years but have an intention to return to the country from which you originated. 

When born, a legitimate child automatically takes on the domicile of its father.  An illegitimate child takes on the domicile of its mother.  This is known as a Domicile of Origin.  It is possible, at a later date, to change domicile if you go and reside in another country with the intention of continuing to reside there indefinitely.  This usually involves severing all links with the original country and if a question arises over someone's domicile the Courts look at factors such as whether they have removed all their assets from the original country, whether they still belong to clubs and societies in the original country and whether they want to return there in their old age or want to return to their original country to be buried.  If you acquire a new domicile this is known as a Domicile of Choice.  If you, at a later date, abandon the new country and, say, travel around the World for some years, then it is possible for the domicile of origin to revive as you cannot be without a domicile at any time.

(There is an exception to the above rule under section 4 of the Domicile and Matrimonial Proceedings Act 1973.  If the parents of a minor child are living apart and the minor has his home with his mother, his domicile is that of his mother.  Such domicile, once acquired, is kept even though his home might no longer be with his mother or she might die, so long as he has not since then had his home with his father.)

It is also still possible to come across a woman who has a Domicile of Dependence.  The rule used to be that a woman automatically took on the domicile of her husband on her marriage.  That rule was abolished from 1 January 1974.  However, if a woman acquired a domicile of dependence before 1 January 1974 on marriage then she is treated as retaining that domicile unless and until she changes it by the acquisition of a new domicile of choice or revival of the domicile of origin on or after 1 January 1974.

The law of the country in which you are domiciled normally governs how your moveable assets are dealt with for the purpose of succession.

If you are domiciled in England then the disposition of your property on your death (apart from any land owned abroad) would normally be determined according to English law and your English Will could deal with all your property. 

Generally, the person entrusted with administration of a deceased's estate by the Court in the country of the deceased's domicile is recognised by foreign countries as the person entitled to be appointed to deal with any foreign assets.

References in this note to a ‘country’ mean a territory with a single system of law, e.g. England and Wales, Scotland, Jersey, Ontario, California, Queensland.

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