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What sets the corporation apart from all other types of businesses is that a corporation is an independent legal entity, separate from the people who own, control, and manage it. In other words, corporation and tax laws view the corporation as a legal "person" that can enter into contracts, incur debts, and pay taxes apart from its owners. Other important characteristics also result from the corporation's separate existence: A corporation does not dissolve when its owners (shareholders) change or die, and the owners of a corporation have limited liability -- that is, they are not personally responsible for the corporation's debts.
To learn more about the corporate structure, read Nolo's article Corporation Basics.