A registered agent is an individual or entity designated to receive legal documents on behalf of your business. These legal documents include any service of process like summonses, subpoenas, and other documents resulting from a lawsuit. A corporate director, attorney, or CPA within the company can serve as a registered agent, or you can use a third-party organization.
Keep reading to learn the basics of what a registered agent does and some factors to consider as you search for an agent for your business.
What Is a Registered Agent?
Except for self-employed individuals, all businesses must register as legal entities, such as LLCs, partnerships, or corporations. As a part of that process, your business will likely need a registered agent. Your registered agent is essentially your business's point-of-contact for all legal correspondence. If a former employee tries to sue your business, for example, you'll find out about it through your registered agent.
- Alternate names: Statutory agent, agent of process
The registered agent must be located in the same state as the business they represent. If you operate in multiple states, you must have a registered agent in each of those states.
How Does a Registered Agent Work?
Registered agents help ensure that businesses receive the due process promised to them under the Constitution. One part of due process is the legal right to be officially notified of a lawsuit or any other legal matter against you or your business. Registered agents are the ones who receive this notification, and they're responsible for ensuring that the business entity is aware of the proceedings against it.
Anyone serving process must typically do so in person, whether the legal documents pertain to an individual or a business entity. Serving notice against a business typically means going to an office and presenting the document to the registered agent, but this can take place wherever the registered agent has established that they will be during the workweek. Registered agents are required to be open for business—meaning they can accept service of process—during business hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, except holidays.
Once the registered agent has received legal documents, they will email them to the business. Registered agents are expected to immediately notify the business of any new documents they receive.
If the initial email isn't acknowledged, the registered agent should follow up with more emails or a phone call. In some cases, like when someone at the business needs to sign a document, it will be sent by mail, as well.
Some registered agents provide additional services, such as filing documents or notifying businesses of upcoming events like important franchise tax filing dates.
A registered agent will forward important legal documents, but they don't typically accept regular mail on behalf of your business. If they do, it will probably come with an additional fee, because forwarding standard mail is not the job of a registered agent.
Serving as Your Own Registered Agent
You are legally allowed to serve as your own registered agent, but you might want to think twice about it. If you are your own registered agent, you must be available at one location during all business hours. You're effectively anchored to your desk when you serve as a registered agent. Depending on what else you do in your business, it may be difficult—or impossible—to be available at the same location during all business hours.
Serving as your own registered agent could also risk embarrassment. You could get served right as you were about to close a major deal with a potential client. Receiving a lawsuit in front of employees, customers, or anyone else could have negative effects on your business. By using a third-party registered agent, you'll receive this information in the most discrete way possible.
Another downside is that the name and address of your registered agent will appear in public records. If you don't want your name and location during business hours publicly available, you'll need to find another person to serve as your registered agent.
Finding a Registered Agent Service
You can find many registered agent services online, but before hiring anyone, find out what's included in the service. Ask about any extra fees and ensure they're located at a legitimate business location.
Read reviews before hiring any third-party registered agents.
If you have trouble learning the details of a registered agent service, that could be a red flag. You're depending on this service to communicate legal issues, so any early communication breakdowns could mean they're ineffective or a bad fit for your business.
- A registered agent is someone who accepts legal documents on behalf of a business.
- A business must have a registered agent in each state where they do business.
- Registered agents must adhere to strict rules, including a requirement that they remain available at a single location during all business hours.
- Business owners are technically able to serve as their own registered agents, but given the strict rules, it may not be advisable.