What Is a Registered Agent?

Updated: November 17, 2023

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A registered agent, also known as a resident agent or statutory agent, is a person or company designated by a business to receive important legal and tax documents. Appointing a registered agent is required by law for most businesses like LLCs, corporations, and nonprofits.

The main role of the registered agent is to act as a point of contact between a company and the state it is registered in. By law, each state requires companies to designate a registered agent who has a physical address in that state. The registered agent’s address serves as the company’s official mailing address for government correspondence and legal notices.

Appointing a registered agent is an important first step for any entrepreneur starting a business. It meets state compliance requirements and enables a company to be properly registered. It also ensures quick and reliable delivery of important legal documents and helps avoid any compliance issues down the road.

Definition of a Registered Agent

A registered agent is a person or business entity that is authorized to receive service of process (SOP) and official government documents on behalf of a company. The registered agent’s address serves as the company’s official mailing address registered with the Secretary of State in the state where the company is formed.


The Secretary of State is an elected official in each state responsible for overseeing the incorporation of businesses. When a company incorporates, it must provide the name and address of its registered agent to the Secretary of State. The registered agent’s address then becomes the company’s official address of record.

There are a few key legal requirements for registered agents:

  • They must have a physical street address in the state where the company is formed ( a PO Box is not acceptable).
  • They must be available at the registered office address during normal business hours to accept service of process and legal mail on behalf of the company.
  • They must forward any legal documents or SOP to the company promptly (failure to do so can result in penalties).
  • They must inform the Secretary of State if their name or address changes.

Registered agents act as the main line of communication between a business and the government. They play an important legal role in the formal incorporation of a company.

Roles and Responsibilities of a Registered Agent

The registered agent takes on some important roles and responsibilities on behalf of the business they represent. Here are some of the key duties:

  • Accepting Legal and Tax Documents – A top responsibility is receiving legal documents like lawsuits, summons, or subpoenas on behalf of the business. They also accept important tax documents sent by state and federal agencies.
  • Ensuring Compliance – By accepting time-sensitive mail, the registered agent helps ensure the business complies with all legal and regulatory obligations. They forward mail promptly so the business can respond within the required deadlines.
  • Handling Government Correspondence – Beyond legal mail, the registered agent is responsible for handling any government letters, notices, or requests for information. They facilitate official communication between regulators and the business.

In essence, the registered agent acts as the central mail hub for a business for all things official, legal, and compliance-related. They play a document handling and transmittal role but are not attorneys who provide legal advice. Appointing a reliable registered agent is key to smooth operations.

Types of Registered Agents

When appointing a registered agent, businesses have two main options – designate an individual or hire a professional registered agent service.

Individual Registered Agents

Some companies choose to designate a company owner, executive, or employee as the registered agent. The benefit is there is no additional cost. The drawback is it places a legal burden on the individual, who must be available during business hours to receive legal documents.

Professional Registered Agents

These are services that specialize in acting as registered agents for businesses. They have multiple staff and office locations to ensure mail is handled properly. The advantage is reliability, you can count on a professional company that has processes in place. The tradeoff is an annual fee, which typically ranges from $100-$300 per year.

When deciding between an individual vs. a professional agent, the most important considerations are availability, expertise, and compliance record. Larger or more regulated businesses may opt for a specialized registered agent service to reduce risk. Startups initially may use an individual agent due to cost.

Overall, both types can effectively serve as a company’s registered agent as long as they meet legal requirements. Assessing business needs and growth plans helps determine the best fit.

Choosing a Registered Agent

When selecting a registered agent, there are a few important factors for businesses to consider:

  • Reliability – Make sure they have a track record of reliably forwarding legal documents promptly. Look for organized processes.
  • Availability – They need to be available during normal business hours to receive service of process. If designating an individual, ensure they will be present.
  • Expertise – Select an agent with experience and knowledge in this role. Professional services tend to have more expertise.
  • Compliance – Review their compliance record. Have they failed to notify the state of any changes? No issues?
  • Cost – Professional services charge annual fees ranging from $100-$300 typically. Individuals have no cost but less reliability.
  • Locations – For professional services, ensure they have an address on file in your state of incorporation.
  • Reviews – Check online reviews and feedback from other clients on responsiveness.
  • Instructions – Provide clear guidance to the agent on how you want mail handled.
  • Communication – Make sure the arrangement allows for a quick turnaround of any legal documents.
  • Changing Agents – Know the process to assign a new agent if needed.

Taking the time to carefully select your registered agent is important, as you want someone reliable, responsive, and diligent. Checking their qualifications helps avoid any issues.

Requirements for Being a Registered Agent

What does it take to legally qualify and meet the requirements to serve as a registered agent? 

Here are the key considerations:

  • The registered agent must have the legal capacity under state law to act on behalf of the business. Typically, this means being an adult individual or an authorized representative of a business entity.
  • A valid street address within the state is required. PO boxes are not accepted. The address must be accessible during normal business hours.
  • The agent must be available during the business week to receive legal documents in person on behalf of the company. A quick turnaround is expected.
  • The agent must stay up to date on all state regulations and properly notify the Secretary of State of any changes in name, address, or contact information.
  • A registered agent cannot represent multiple businesses that may have competing interests or be on opposing sides of legal disputes.
  • The designated agent must formally agree and consent to taking on registered agent duties. It is a legal role requiring diligence.
  • Detailed records must be maintained of all legal documents received and forwarded to the company promptly.

While anyone meeting the requirements can serve as an agent, professional services tend to be more qualified to consistently meet all legal duties. Thoroughly vetting any registered agent is key for businesses.

Changing a Registered Agent

Sometimes businesses need to change their registered agent for various reasons. The current agent may resign, close their business, move out of state, or simply stop performing duties reliably. In any scenario, the business must take steps to designate a new registered agent.

Follow these steps:

  1. Select and appoint a new registered agent who meets all of the legal requirements in their state. Doing thorough due diligence is important to ensure the new agent is qualified and reliable.
  2. After carefully choosing a new registered agent, the business then needs to file a Change of Registered Agent form with the Secretary of State’s office. Failing to file this form means the state still recognizes the previous agent.
  3. Within a designated number of days mandated by state law, the business must formally notify the previous agent in writing that they are resigning from registered agent duties. This is an important legal step that cannot be overlooked. 
  4. Even after resignation, the previous registered agent is still legally required to forward any legal documents or government correspondence they receive to either the new registered agent or directly to the company’s updated address. 
  5. Update the registered agent information with all other state and federal agencies beyond just the Secretary of State. Failure to properly notify the state of the change could potentially lead to administrative dissolution of the company.

The new registered agent must provide formal legal consent and have the capacity to take on this important role. Carefully following all of the proper steps when changing registered agents ensures no disruption in receiving legal documents and government correspondence.

Registered Agent Services

Rather than appointing an individual or company executive, many businesses choose to hire a third-party registered agent service. These professional companies specialize in serving as registered agents and meeting all legal requirements.


Some of the top nationwide registered agent services in the U.S. include Northwest Registered Agent, Harvard Business Services, Wolters Kluwer, CSC, and IncFile. These companies maintain a physical address in every state along with dedicated staff to receive service of process. They provide quick turnaround of any legal documents within 24-48 hours. 

The key benefits these registered agent services offer include:

  • Reliability
  • Compliance
  • Accessibility
  • Customer service
  • Cost savings

You can trust dedicated staff and systems to fulfill all legal duties. They stay up to date on state rules and regulations. With multiple offices and staff, someone is always available to receive legal documents. If one location closes, mail can be redirected to another nearby office. Issues get handled right away with customer-focused attention. 

Registered Agents in Different States

While registered agents serve the same core function across the United States, there are some differences in specific requirements at the state level, such as:

  • In California, the registered agent must be a resident or business with a physical address. Out-of-state agents are not allowed.
  • Florida requires all LLCs to use a commercial registered agent service business rather than an individual.
  • New York mandates domestic limited liability companies to appoint the Secretary of State as a registered agent initially.
  • Pennsylvania allows non-commercial entities like nonprofits and hospitals to serve as registered agents. Most states restrict it to individuals or businesses.
  • In Delaware, registered agents must obtain a business license specifically for this purpose issued by the Secretary of State.
  • Texas has more flexibility, permitting PO boxes as valid addresses for registered agents. Most states require a physical street address.

While the majority of registered agent duties are consistent nationwide, it is important to research the exact requirements in your state of incorporation. Some have unique rules on who can serve as an agent or how they must be appointed. Adhering to state regulations avoids any compliance issues.

Common Questions and Misconceptions

There are some common questions and misconceptions that come up regarding registered agents. Let’s address a few of them:

Do I need a registered agent if I operate a sole proprietorship or general partnership?

You typically do not need a registered agent for a sole proprietorship or general partnership. Registered agents are required for corporations, LLCs, and formal business entities.

Can I act as my own registered agent?

Yes, you can designate yourself as the registered agent. However, this places the legal burden on you as an individual to accept all documents. Hiring a third-party service reduces risk.

Is my lawyer my registered agent?

Not necessarily. Attorneys can serve as registered agents, but they need to expressly agree to take on this role. Most lawyers prefer not to act as official agents.

Do I only need a registered agent when first forming my business?

No, registered agents must be maintained continuously as long as your business remains active and incorporated. It’s not just an initial formation step.

If I move, do I need to change my registered agent?

No, your registered agent’s address stays the same. You simply update your company’s official mailing address with the state.

Can a registered agent provide me legal or tax advice?

No, registered agents only accept and forward official documents received. They cannot provide legal counsel or tax help.

Registered Agent Overview

Choosing the right registered agent is an important decision for any business that incorporates. A registered agent is an individual or service authorized to receive official documents on your company’s behalf.

Appointing an agent is a legal requirement to form an LLC, corporation, or nonprofit. Registered agents provide a reliable point of contact with state regulators and facilitate compliance.

When selecting a registered agent, look for responsiveness, organization, compliance expertise, and a physical address in your state. While individuals like company owners can serve this role, professional services often provide greater reliability and experience.

Make sure to research your specific state’s regulations, as requirements vary across the country. Overall, a diligent registered agent acts as a vital communications conduit between your business and the government.

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