If you form a business entity such as a corporation or limited liability company (LLC), you need to have a registered agent. There are several ways you can comply with this legal requirement.
A registered agent is someone whom you designate to receive official papers for your business. These include court papers if your business is sued (what lawyers call "service of process"), business registration renewal notices from the Secretary of State, and tax notices.
Such a person is called a "registered" agent because you submit a form to the state that "registers" him, her, or it to be your business's agent for official communications.
You need a registered agent in each state where you are registered to do business with the secretary of state or similar state official. As a rule, this means any state in which you've registered a:
None of these business entities can serve as their own agent to accept legal papers. They must appoint a third party to serve as agent.
If you're just starting a registered business, such as an LLC or corporation, you must designate your initial registered agent as part of your articles of organization (for an LLC) or articles of incorporation (for a corporation). These forms—which have different names in some states—are available for download directly from websites maintained by each state's Secretary of State or equivalent office.
If you already have a registered business in a particular state, but need to update information about your registered agent, there typically is a downloadable form available from the Secretary of State that you will use to provide that updated information to the state.
You have several options when it comes to choosing a registered agent.
A registered agent can be an individual (over 18 years of age) or a business. However, the registered agent must be located in the state where your business is registered. You must provide the Secretary of State not just your registered agent's name but also a physical—street—address. This ensures that documents relating to lawsuits can be personally served on an actual, physical location.
Ordinarily you or another member of your business, such as a partner, member of your LLC, officer of your corporation, or employee, can serve as the registered agent. In this event, the address for the registered agent will be your business location.
Alternatively, your lawyer, spouse or other relative, friend, or trusted person can serve as registered agent.
Most small businesses (ten or fewer employees) use individual registered agents because it saves money. However, using an individual registered agent does have a few potential drawbacks:
If you do elect to use an individual as your registered agent, make sure the person agrees to do so before you designate him or her as your agent in the filings you make with the Secretary of State.
Instead of designating a private individual to serve as your registered agent, you can hire a private registered agent service company. This is a private company in the business of serving as the registered agent for LLCs, corporations, and other businesses. Such companies must register as corporate agents for service of process with the Secretary of State of the state involved.
These firms charge an annual fee—typically, $100 to $300. In return for paying the fee, you get the assurance that important papers sent to your business will be received and forwarded to you. Better service companies scan the papers they receive for your business and make them quickly available to you online.
Individuals can serve as registered agents only in the state where they live. So, if you register your business in more than one state, you'll have to get someone else to serve as agent in the other state or states. You'll avoid this problem by hiring a national service company with offices in every state. It can serve as your registered agent in any state in which you register to do business.