Think of all the people you communicate with regularly to run your LLC. Business partners, employees, banks, lawyers, and financial advisors all probably come to mind. But what about the state? It may not be at the top of your list, but running a successful LLC in Washington requires consistent interaction with the state.
Formation documents, business information changes, lawsuits, professional licenses, and Annual Reports – all of these (and more) require you to work with state agencies. The good news is that you don’t need to do it yourself.
Introducing the registered agent. A Washington registered agent is an intermediary for your LLC, a person or company that handles your communication with the state. They’re a vital part of any LLC’s success. Before you file your Certificate of Formation, you’ll need to have a designated registered agent. How? Why? Who? Read on to find out.
What is a Washington Registered Agent & is it Necessary?
An LLC cannot be formed or do business in Washington without first having a registered agent on file with the Secretary of State. This is required by law and the penalties can be serious. Maintaining a registered agent doesn’t just keep you in good standing. It also provides an important service.
Think of your registered agent as your ambassador to the state, handling all your LLC’s important legal, tax, and compliance information. This can either be an individual, company or registered agent service, as long as they meet the state’s requirements and give their consent by signing the Certificate of Formation.
As soon as they’re appointed, your registered agent must be consistently available in Washington to receive and act on mailed documents and service of process. Here’s what the Washington Secretary of State specifically says:
Don’t let your LLC ever go without a registered agent if you can help it. If you ever lose a registered agent and go more than 30 days without bringing on a replacement, the state can administratively dissolve the company.
What are the Requirements of a Registered Agent?
Despite the fact that your registered agent plays an crucial role in your LLC, there are very few restrictions on who can assume that responsibility. Your registered agent must:
- Be an individual resident of the state of Washington or a corporation authorized to do business in the state.
- Have a physical address in Washington (P.O. boxes not allowed).
- Have a mailing address in Washington (can be the same as the physical address).
You can even take on the role yourself if you don’t mind the responsibilities. But no matter who you appoint, you’ll need to include their information on the Certificate of Formation. Here’s what you’ll see on the form itself:
When you’ve got potential options for your registered agent, review each one to make sure that they meet these requirements. If they do, you’re good to go! If not, you’ll need to keep looking.
Who can be a Registered Agent in Washington?
Washington’s registered agent requirements are pretty broad, so you’ll have no shortage of options. On top of that, your agent can be either an individual or a professional service. But think carefully before choosing, because each option has its own pros and cons. Let’s take a closer look.
You may choose to appoint a single person as your registered agent. Some LLC owners take on registered agent duties themselves. Others appoint one of their partners or managers. Some will even appoint a family member. As long as the proposed agent fulfills the state’s requirements, they’re a valid option.
In addition to being a Washington resident, your agent must not currently be establishing residency or receiving benefits in another state, even if that residency is still forthcoming.
Some smart registered agent choices include attorneys, accountants, or other LLC partners, people who understand the ins and outs of business operations.
- Convenience – Having familiarity and mutual trust with your registered agent is extremely beneficial, and appointing an acquaintance can provide both. Plus, you’ll always know how to contact them.
- Cost – Hiring someone you know often won’t cost a dime. It’s certainly cheaper than a professional service.
- Scheduling – Part of a registered agent’s duty is being consistently available to receive mailed documents and service of process. If your agent goes on vacation or moves out of state, it will throw a wrench in your plans.
- Punctuality Risks – Some state communications and filings are very time sensitive. If your agent is unavailable when documents are delivered, it could slow down the entire process and put you at risk for late fees and penalties. Even worse, a friend or family member could lose or misplace a document. So if you’d rather not interrogate Aunt Louise about the location of a particular tax form, you might consider using a registered agent service instead.
Registered Agent Service
If safety and reliability is your goal, hire a registered agent service. A business acting as your registered agent must be either a domestic entity in Washington or a foreign entity who has foreign qualified in Washington.
- Privacy – Some documents delivered to your registered agent will contain sensitive information. Do you want details about your lawsuit or taxes lost out there in the world? Definitely not. A friend or family member might misplace these documents, but a professional service will not. Plus, in Washington, all registered agent names and addresses are available to the public. This might make an individual uncomfortable, but hiring a company will keep this personal information off the record.
- Reliability – Handling and processing time-sensitive documents is a registered agent service’s specialty, its area of expertise, its main game. Hire a professional service and you can be sure that your filings will be submitted properly and punctually, so you’ll never have to deal with late fees or other penalties.
- Location – Many registered agent companies offer service in most or all 50 states, so if business is booming and you decide to expand outside Washington, you won’t need to find a new agent for each state.
- Cost – There’s no getting around it – hiring a service costs more than appointing an individual who’s willing to do it for free. However, for a reasonable price (roughly $100/year), you’ll receive premium services. Taking your car to a mechanic costs more than letting your neighbor try to fix it, but the mechanic gives you peace of mind that the job will get done right, and that may very well be worth the cost.
All of the other steps in the LLC formation process will keep you busy, but take some time to ensure you find a registered agent that fits with your business model, goals, and values. Do this, and your LLC will reap the benefits for years to come.
How to get a Free Registered Agent in Washington
Here’s a pro tip: you can get the reliability of a registered agent service and the cost-effectiveness of an individual. The best of both worlds. When you hire certain LLC services to start your business, they’ll throw in free registered agent service.
How it Works
Hire a company like IncFile or Northwest Registered Agent to form your Washington LLC. In addition to taking care of your Certificate of Formation and other formation requirements, they will automatically include a registered agent. It’s a great two-for-one deal.
And an LLC service is pretty affordable – $180 for the Washington LLC formation fee (or $200 for online filings), plus a $49 or $79 service fee. That’s great value for the number of benefits you receive. Some services will even cover and consolidate your LLC formation costs.
Take this route and you’ll sweep all formation paperwork and registered agent duties off your plate. Plus, to keep track of everything, these services provide user-friendly online dashboards, so you can follow everything they’re doing to keep your LLC in good standing.
Registered Agent Changes and Resignation
You may have a wonderful registered agent, someone who takes care of everything efficiently and who you trust completely. But you know what they say: all good things must come to an end. At some point in the life of your LLC, you may need to change your Washington registered agent.
There are two ways to do it. The first (and most common) is to file a Statement of Change form. Download the document, fill it out, then mail it to:
Office of the Secretary of State
Corporations & Charities Division
P.O. Box 40234
Olympia, WA 98504 – 0234
There’s no filing fee, but if you want expedited processing, you’ll need to include a $50 payment.
Or, if you’re in the process of completing your Annual Report, you can include your new registered agent information there. This way, you won’t have to file two separate forms.
There are a number of reasons you might need to file for a change, but the most common is a registered agent’s resignation. But your agent can’t just leave out of nowhere. They have to submit an official resignation form and, after they do, they’ll retain their duties for 30 days, giving you time to arrange for a replacement.
As mentioned earlier, if you drag your feet in appointing a new agent and your LLC goes more than 30 days without one, you risk administrative dissolution, so find a replacement right away!
Have Questions or Concerns?
This guide contains almost everything there is to know about Washington registered agents. However, you might have a unique situation that requires additional information. Reaching out to the Washington Secretary of State is easy, and they’ll have the answers you need. Here’s how to reach out:
Visit Their Website
Give Them a Call
Sometimes it’s easier to get a real person on the phone, and you can call the Secretary of State’s Olympia office at 360-725-0377.