Every company must have a registered agent who can accept lawsuits and other official documents on behalf of the business.
When choosing someone to act as an agent, many new business owners wonder, “Can my wife or husband be my registered agent?” The short answer is that, in many cases, your spouse is legally qualified to be your agent. But so is your next-door neighbor, your third cousin, or your auto mechanic.
Just because someone legally can be your agent doesn’t mean that they’re the best choice for the job. Before naming your wife or husband as the registered agent, you should understand what an agent does and the pros and cons of choosing your spouse.
What is a registered agent?
When you form a company, you establish an entity separate from its owners. But because a company is not a person, someone has to accept legal “processes” such as lawsuits and subpoenas on its behalf. That person is the company registered agent, also called a statutory agent.
Every state requires companies to provide the registered agent's name and address in the formation documents they file with the state. In some states, the agent must sign a document agreeing to serve as agent. The company is responsible for ensuring that the agent’s address remains accurate.
An agent may be served with a document by regular or certified mail or in person. If an agent accepts a document on behalf of the company, the agent must promptly pass the document on to the company's appropriate person. This is important because there is limited time to respond to certain documents such as lawsuits.
Who can be a registered agent?
Generally, a registered agent can be any person at least 18 years old and have a physical address (not just a P.O. box) in the state where your company is formed. That address is sometimes referred to as the registered office, though the address can be either a home or a business address. If, for example, you form your company in New York and your wife is a stay-at-home mom at your residence in Brooklyn, she can act as your agent. But if your home is in suburban New Jersey, she cannot be your agent because she does not have a physical address in New York.
Additionally, the agent must be available at that address during normal business hours.
If your wife or husband is usually out on sales calls all day, they can’t act as agent. But if your spouse is mostly in one place during the business day, he or she meets this requirement.
An agent can also be a business that provides registered agent services to different business entities.
Registered agent rules vary slightly from state to state. For the precise rules in your state, consult the state agency's website that handles business filings.
Things to consider
If you’ve determined that your spouse meets the legal requirements to be your company’s registered agent, there are some additional factors to consider.
- If your company is sued, how confident are you that your spouse will give you the lawsuit right away? Some people are organized and stay on top of household tasks, schedules, and finances. Suppose your spouse is one of these people, great. But if he or she is the type who forgets to pay the electric bill, you’ll be better off with a different agent.
- If you name your wife or husband as an agent, you save yourself the potential embarrassment of being served with the process in front of employees and customers. But if your spouse is served at work or in front of friends, he or she will suffer the same embarrassment, even though the lawsuit has nothing to do with them.
- Your agent’s name and address will become public records. If you name your wife as a registered agent and list your home address, you should be comfortable with having that publicly disclosed.
- If your home address is on the public record, you will be subjected to junk mail and other solicitations.
- If you do business in more than one state, you’ll need an agent for each state where you’re registered to do business. It may make sense to use one professional agent for all states.
- Finally, many marriages fail. Your spouse may be less likely to notify you promptly of a lawsuit if you are separated or divorced. You may not want your ex to be the first to know your business has been sued. And amid marital strife, you may not remember to change your registered agent.
Although your wife or husband may act as a registered agent, you should consider whether they are a good choice. Consider naming someone else or obtaining registered agent services from a professional registered agent company if you have concerns.
What happens if you have more than one business or have a business in more than one state needing registered agent?
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