What is a registered agent? Everything you need to know.

There's a good chance you’ve seen a TV drama with someone getting tricked into admitting their identity only to be served with legal papers. These scenes, although often exaggerated, illustrate the service of process on an individual. But what happens when a business entity needs to be served papers? That’s when a registered agent comes in.

When a business or other legal entity is served legal documents, they are delivered to the company's registered agent of public record. In this guide, we’ve delved into the much-asked question, “what is a registered agent?” Discover the duties of a registered agent, why a business requires one, and how to appoint one below.

Registered agent definition

A registered agent, also known as a resident agent, special agent, and statutory agent is a legal entity or individual appointed under state law to accept service of process and other legal documents on behalf of a business.

When an individual is being served there is a distinct person to address but some companies have tens of thousands of employees. If a company based in Germany were to be served at one of their warehouses in the United States, there would be great difficulty and confusion in both understanding and forwarding the legal documents to their legal team even though they are part of the same company.

In the interests of judicial fairness, a business entity is required under state law to appoint a single representative to accept these documents in each jurisdiction they are located. When a legal document is served on a business the registered agent accepts the document and then must forward it to the proper individuals.

When first appointing a registered agent the procedure and means of forwarding documents between the registered agent and their client company will be agreed upon to avoid future delay or confusion.

Do I need a registered agent?

It's the law for a business entity in the U.S. to appoint a registered agent. Therefore, if you own a business or work for a business, other than sole proprietorships and basic partnerships which don't require registration with the Secretary of State, there is a statutory legal requirement to appoint a registered agent.

Unsure if you require a registered agent? Here is a checklist to help you discover whether you need one or not:

  • Filed formation documents with the Secretary of State to create a business
  • Registered your business to transact in another state
  • The business is a Limited Liability Company (“LLC”), Corporation (both profit and non-profit), General Partnership (“GP”), Limited Partnership (“LP”), or a variance thereof
  • If you are curious about your company's current registered agent, this information is publicly available and can be found on the website of the Secretary of State.

Registered agent duties

The registered agent you choose must have a physical location in the state where your business is registered; a P.O. Box will not suffice. This means if you have business entities located in multiple states, you must appoint a registered agent in each of these states.

The registered agent main duties include:

  • Accepting government notices, annual compliance notices, and service of process in the event of legal proceedings against the business.
  • In order to ensure successful delivery of these documents the agent must be available during standard business hours each day.
  • The agent then has a duty to forward these documents to the business they are accepting delivery on behalf of.
  • Most registered agents also prepare and file Annual Reports.

Appointing a Registered Agent

A business will appoint a registered agent when filing formation documents with a state and when registering to transact business in said state. The Secretary of State also allows for filing documents to change or update registered agent information at any time as long as the business remains active.

Many businesses registered in multiple states will choose a professional registered agent service to act as their agent to ensure successful delivery and to streamline operations across state lines. Corporate Creations offers representation across multiple jurisdictions so that you can use one registered agent service for all your entities. Get in touch with us to learn more about how we can help you.