For some corporations, a time comes when the people who own and run things voluntarily decide to close the business. If you’ve reached that point with your West Virginia corporation, you’ll need to take care of multiple tasks—including what is called dissolving and winding up your business.
Your corporation is registered with the State of West Virginia. Officially ending its existence as a state-registered business entity, and putting it beyond the reach of creditors and other claimants, begins with a formal process called “dissolution.” While a corporation may be involuntarily dissolved through a court decree, or for administrative reasons such as failing to pay fees or franchise taxes, this article covers voluntary dissolution by a corporation’s shareholders. Also, while there are streamlined procedures for dissolving corporations that have not yet issued stock or not yet started doing business, those procedures are not covered in this article.
West Virginia’s Business Corporation Act (“BCA”) provides for voluntary dissolution through a shareholder vote at a shareholder meeting. Before the vote, your board of directors must submit a proposal to dissolve to the shareholders. You are required to give ten days advance notice to each shareholder, whether or not entitled to vote, of the proposed meeting to consider dissolution. Unless your articles of incorporation or board of directors require a greater vote, a greater number of shares to be present, or a vote by voting groups, a majority of all votes entitled to be cast must approve the dissolution. If you use this method, make sure to properly record both the board’s proposal and the shareholders’ votes.
The BCA also allows you to avoid a formal meeting and vote if all shareholders entitled to vote on dissolution provide their written consent. The shareholders must sign a document, known simply as a “consent,” that states the corporation is dissolved. The consent then must be properly entered in the corporation’s records. You must give nonvoting shareholders at least 10 days advance notice of the impending dissolution. Dissolution based on written consent can be more efficient for small businesses where most or all of the voting shareholders are directors—and there is unanimous agreement on dissolution.
Note that dissolution, alone, does not:
After dissolving your corporation, you should file articles of dissolution with the Secretary of State (“SOS”). The BCA does not strictly require you to file this document, instead stating that a corporation “may” dissolve by filing the articles. However, for various reasons, including limiting liability and terminating various filing requirements, filing articles of dissolution is generally the best practice. (In short, if you don’t file articles of dissolution, you won’t be completing the voluntary dissolution of your corporation.)
To complete the articles of dissolution, you must provide:
An articles of dissolution form is available for download from the SOS website. If you use the SOS form—which is recommended—you must also provide an address where the SOS can send legal notices to the corporation.
There is a $25 fee to file the articles. You can file by mail, fax, or in person. Your filing usually will be processed in one to two business days. However, before approving your filing and issuing a certificate of dissolution, the SOS will request clearances from the West Virginia State Tax Department, Employer Coverage Unit (Workers Compensation), and Department of Employment Security. If you are not current with all your tax obligations, processing of your articles of dissolution will be delayed. The SOS states that, depending on the details, the delay could be substantial—up to two years.
Note that your business name will become available for use by others after dissolution.
Following dissolution, your corporation continues to exist only for the purpose of taking care of certain final matters that, collectively, are known as “winding up” the company. It may be appropriate to designate one or more officers and/or directors to handle the winding up.
Under the BCA, key winding up tasks include:
Regarding the last two listed items, be aware that your corporation’s first obligation is to discharge liabilities. This includes paying all business taxes and creditors. Only then may the corporation distribute remaining assets to shareholders.
One other key task is giving notice to creditors and other claimants of your corporation’s dissolution. Giving notice is optional. However, doing so will help limit your liability and also allow you to more safely make final distributions to shareholders.
Under the BCA, one way to give notice is by sending a written document directly to known claimants after dissolution. Proper written notice must:
You also may give notice to unknown (potential) claimants by publishing in a newspaper. As with sending direct notice to known claimants, there are specific rules for giving notice through publication. Generally speaking, claimants have five years after the date of newspaper publication to bring a claim.
Some of the rules for giving notice and responding to claims can be hard to understand. Therefore, if you choose to give claimants notice, you should strongly consider getting assistance from a business attorney.
An S corporation is a corporation that has filed an election with the IRS to have business income, losses, deductions, and credits pass through to individual shareholders for federal tax purposes. Only the shareholders, and not the corporation, pay federal taxes on income from the business. Potential tax issues aside, the process for dissolving and winding up an S corporation is generally the same as dissolving and winding up a traditional corporation.
West Virginia does not require that you obtain tax clearance before dissolving your corporation. However, as mentioned above, the SOS will check with various state agencies to obtain tax clearances. If they cannot obtain the necessary clearances your dissolution will be delayed.
For federal tax purposes, check the “final return” box on your IRS Form 1120 (for traditional corporations) or IRS Form 1120S (for S corporations).
Is your corporation registered or qualified to do business in other states? If so, you must file separate forms to terminate your right to conduct business in those states. Depending on the states involved, the form might be called a termination of registration, certificate of termination of existence, application of withdrawal, or certificate of surrender of right to transact business. Failure to file the additional termination forms means you’ll continue to be liable for annual report fees and minimum business taxes.
You can find additional information, such as forms, mailing addresses, and filing fees, on the SOS website.
For information on dissolving and winding up corporations formed in other states, check Nolo’s 50-state series on dissolving corporations.
Final Note: Dissolving and winding up your corporation is only one piece of the process of closing your business. For further, general guidance on many of the other steps involved, check Nolo’s 20-point checklist for closing a business and the Nolo article on what you need to know about closing a business.