To form a corporation in Washington, you need to take the steps set forth below. To find out what’s required to form a corporation in any other state, see Nolo’s 50-State Guide to Forming a Corporation.
1. Choose a Corporate Name
Your corporation's name must contain the words "incorporated," "corporation," "limited," or "company," or the abbreviation "Corp.," "Inc., "Ltd." or "Co."
Your corporation's name must be distinguishable from the names of other business entities already on file with the Washington Secretary of State. Names may be checked for availability at the Washington Secretary of State business name database.
You may reserve a name for 180 days by filing a Name Reservation with the Washington Secretary of State. The reservation must be filed by mail. The filing fee is $30.
2. File Articles of Incorporation
Your corporation is legally created by filing Articles of Incorporation with the Washington Secretary of State. The articles must include the: corporate name and address; name, address, and signature of agent for service of process; nature of business; number of shares the corporation is authorized to issue; name and address of each incorporator; duration of corporation; effective date of articles.
The articles may be filed online or by mail. The filing fee is $180 for postal filing, $200 for online filing.
3. Appoint a Registered Agent
Every Washington corporation must have an agent for service of process in the state. This is an individual or corporation that agrees to accept legal papers on the corporation's behalf if it is sued. A registered agent may be an individual who resides in Washington, or a business entity authorized to do business in Washington. The registered agent must have a physical street address in Washington. The agent should agree to accept service of process on your corporation's behalf prior to designation.
4. Set Up a Corporate Records Book
Set up a corporate records book in which you keep all of your corporation's important papers, including minutes of director and shareholder meetings, stock certificates, and stock certificate stubs. Keep your corporate records book at the principal office of your corporation. You can use a three-ring binder as the corporate records book or you can order a special corporate records kit through a corporate kit supplier.
5. Prepare Corporate Bylaws
Bylaws are an internal corporate document that set out the basic ground rules for operating your corporation. They are not filed with the state. Your corporation is not legally required to have corporate bylaws, but you should adopt them because they (1) establish your corporation's operating rules, and (2) help show banks, creditors, the IRS, and others that your corporation is legitimate. For corporate bylaw forms, see Nolo’s website or Incorporate Your Business, by Anthony Mancuso (Nolo). Corporate kits also typically contain sample bylaws.
6. Appoint Initial Corporate Directors
The incorporator—the person who signed the articles—must appoint the initial corporate directors who will serve on the board until the first annual meeting of shareholders (when the board members who will serve for the next term are elected by the shareholders). The incorporator must fill in an “Incorporator’s Statement” showing the names and addresses of the initial directors. The incorporator must sign the statement and place a copy in the corporate records book. The statement need not be filed with the state. For a sample Incorporators Statement, see Incorporate Your Business, by Anthony Mancuso (Nolo).
7. Hold Your First Board of Directors Meeting
The first meeting of the corporation's board of directors should be held at which the directors can appoint corporate officers, adopt bylaws, select a corporate bank, authorize issuance of shares of stock, set the corporation's fiscal year, and adopt an official stock certificate form and corporate seal. The directors' actions must be recorded in corporate minutes prepared by the incorporator or any of the directors. Additionally, if the corporation will be an S corporation, the directors should approve the election of S corporation status. It is usually necessary to prepare the minutes over one or two weeks, and then send them to all the directors for their signature. For corporate meeting minute forms, see Nolo’s website or refer to Incorporate Your Business, by Anthony Mancuso (Nolo).
8. Issue Stock
Issue stock to each shareholder. Although not legally required in most states, small corporations usually issue paper stock certificates. Enter each shareholder's name and contact information in the corporation’s stock transfer ledger. A share of stock in your corporation is classified as a security under state and federal securities laws that regulate the offer and sale of corporate stock.
However, the federal government and all states exempt most small corporations from these laws. For example, federal
law exempts "private offerings": a non-advertised sale to a limited number of people (generally 35 or fewer); most states have enacted their own versions of this SEC exemption. Visit your sate securities office website for information about your state's securities laws. Links to all such offices can be found at the Contact Your Regulator web page of the North American Securities Administrators Association.
9. Comply with Washington Annual Report Requirements
Every Washington corporation and foreign corporation authorized to do business in the state must file an annual report and license renewal with the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State will send a renewal notice to the corporation's registered agent approximately 45 days before the Annual Report is due. The Annual Report may be filed online or by postal mail. The fee for filing the Annual Report is $69.
10. Comply With Other Tax and Regulatory Requirements
Additional tax and regulatory requirements apply to your corporation. These include:
EIN: Your corporation must obtain a federal employer identification number (EIN). You may obtain an EIN by completing an online application on the IRS website. There is no filing fee.
S Corporation Filing: If the corporation wants to elect S corporation status for tax purposes, it must submit Form 2553 Election by a Small Business Corporation (signed by all the shareholders). The election should be filed within two months and 15 days after the beginning of the corporation's first tax year. See the IRS S Corporation Fact Sheet for details.
Business Licenses: All corporations and other businesses doing business in Washington must obtain a state business license from the State of Washington Business Licensing Service. An application for the license may filed online or by mail by filing a Business License Application. Depending on its type of business and where it is located, your corporation may need to obtain other local and state business licenses as well. For details, consult the online Washington Business Licensing Guide.
11. Foreign Corporations Doing Business in Washington
All corporations organized outside of Washington must register with the Washington Secretary of State to do business in Washington. Foreign corporations must appoint a registered agent for service of process physically located in Washington.
To register, file a Certificate of Authority-Foreign Profit Corporation with the Secretary of State. The application may be filed online or by postal mail. The filing fee is $180 for filing by mail or $200 for online filings.
The completed application must be accompanied by a certificate of existence or good standing from the foreign corporation's home state that is not more than 60 days old.