Forming a West Virginia LLC takes a lot of planning. Between the Articles of Organization, Annual Reports, potential tax registrations, and more, there’s a lot to consider. And paperwork and startup costs aren’t the only necessary tasks. You’ll also want to set up your LLC to run smoothly and avoid legal troubles after it’s been registered with the state.
That’s where the LLC operating agreement comes in.
Time-Saving Hack: There are a handful of online LLC websites that can form an LLC for you and include a free customizable operating agreement. ZenBusiness, though, is the only one that offers a free operating agreement in every package.
What is an LLC Operating Agreement?
An operating agreement gives your business structure and official procedures. It designates ownership, establishes operations, defines member responsibilities, and provides legal protection. Essentially, it lays out everything someone might need to know about your LLC. And it’s an internal document, so there’s no filing or fees involved.
Whether you’re starting a multi-member or single-member LLC, we strongly recommend completing an operating agreement. It’ll benefit and protect you for as long as you’re in business.
Am I Required to Have an Operating Agreement in West Virginia?
Technically, no. Adopting an operating agreement isn’t mandatory for West Virginia LLCs. That said, maintaining one will provide your company with an array of vital business benefits. It essentially serves as your LLC’s bylaws, establishing necessary processes, protecting your personal assets, and legitimizing the business in the eyes of courts, banks, and government agencies.
Without an operating agreement on file, you won’t be able to rules and procedures that help your business run smoothly, or have a safety net in the case of internal and external disputes.
Benefits of Creating an Operating Agreement
You want what’s best for your business. Months or years in the future, you want it to be a profitable and thriving endeavor. Having an operating agreement in place will set up your LLC for sustained success.
It requires some legwork, but it’s well worth it. Just look at some of the benefits:
- Officially designates how the ownership is split up (the percentage each member/manager owns), so there are no disputes.
- Standardizes office and company operations to improve efficiency
- Outlines the procedures for member additions and resignations, agent of process changes, dissolutions, and more, so there is no confusion.
- Avoids West Virginia’s “default rules,” which define baseline procedures for any LLC without an operating agreement and aren’t necessarily the best for your business.
- Grants you greater respect from West Virginia courts.
Free West Virginia LLC Operating Agreement
So you’ve decided to create an operating agreement and now you’re sitting at your desk, wondering where to begin. Because it’s an important legal document, your first thought might be to look for guidance on the Secretary of State website. But while this site contains a lot of helpful LLC information, it doesn’t have any official operating agreement forms or instructions.
So, you’ll need to create your own, but don’t be intimidated! You don’t need to be an attorney or expert writer to draft an effective agreement. Plus, you can find plenty of free templates online to help you with the structure and legal terminology. While most of these templates are good options, a great starting point is one that you can get free through an affordable LLC service like ZenBusiness or Northwest Registered Agent.
Whether you’re using a template or starting from scratch, here’s a quick and easy guide for what to include:
Owner or Member Information: Names and mailing addresses.
Company Information: Your LLC’s name, registered office, and principal office.
Agent of Process Information: The name of your agent of process, their address, and contact information.
LLC Formation: The date you filed or will file your Articles of Organization with the Secretary of State.
Business Purpose: The type(s) of business your LLC will be doing in West Virginia.
Term: How long your LLC in West Virginia will be valid, typically until you file for termination.
Capital Contributions: The amount of money each member has invested in the LLC.
Profits, Losses, and Distributions: How income and debts are allocated among members and methods for distributing funds.
Ownership Percentage: How much of the company each member owns.
Management and Roles: The managerial structure and decision-making processes, naming who is in charge or certain operations.
Compensation: How members/managers are compensated and reimbursed.
Bookkeeping: Accounting procedures and member account policies.
Tax Treatment: Whether your LLC will be taxed as a Sole Proprietorship, Partnership, S-Corporation, or C-Corporation.
Member Additions: The procedure for bringing on new members – how they will be admitted, if they’re entitled to income, any expenses they will owe, their roles, etc.
Member Withdrawal: Procedures for the resignation, expulsion, retirement, or death of an existing member.
Amendment Procedures: How your LLC will approve changes to the operating agreement. Usually, it’s through a majority vote by the members.
Dissolution: What happens when you terminate your LLC. How your members will split up the remaining assets or debts.
You don’t always need to include all of the above. If any don’t apply to your LLC, feel free to leave them out. Still, it’s a good idea to cover as many bases as possible. Even if you’re a single-member LLC, you should consider including as many sections as possible to accommodate future changes. Otherwise, years into the life of your business, you may run into a dispute over something you didn’t include, and you won’t be able to fall back on the operating agreement.
When you’ve finished your operating agreement, share it with your LLC’s members – they will need to approve it before it can take effect. Because it’s an internal document, you won’t need to submit it to the Secretary of State. Instead, store it safely with your other business files. You will need to review and revise it later.
Making Changes to Your Operating Agreement
For better or worse, your business is going to change. As you begin doing business in West Virginia and, hopefully, raking in profits, the LLC will grow and evolve. It will develop different needs and more complicated processes. Keep everything running smoothly but updating your operating agreement as changes occur.
First, all LLC managers/members must approve the change. To seek approval, follow the guidelines you already outlined in your operating agreement for ratifying amendments.
Because it isn’t recorded with the state, modifying your agreement is as simple as making changes to the Word document or PDF you keep in your own files.
For example: your agent of process resigns and, following West Virginia law, you appoint a agent of process service to take their place. Simply pull up your electronic file, enter the new agent information, save it, and print a copy. Make sure you keep a draft of the previous document as well so you can track the changes you’ve made, just in case the state ever has any questions.
Hiring an Attorney
Worried that you might miss a critical detail? Uncomfortable with legal minutiae? If you want to ensure your operating agreement provides for all possible outcomes and disputes, you might consider hiring an attorney to review it or write it entirely.
Some attorneys have a flat rate for drafting an operating agreement; others bill by the hour. Either way, you’ll only need their assistance for a limited period of time. Use a site like Avvo to find the right fit for your business. Avvo’s database lets you sort by location, rate, and more – it even shows West Virginia lawyers that specialize in businesses.
Hiring an LLC Formation Service
The LLC formation process, with its forms and fees, might make you want to throw up your hands and surrender. Don’t do that! Instead, consider hiring an online service like ZenBusiness or Northwest Registered Agent.
An online service like we mentioned earlier can quickly take care of all your necessary filings. Plus, they’ll create a customized operating agreement for you!
Given the amount of time you would spend drafting an agreement from scratch, a formation service is worth it. Not only will you receive a meticulously researched and crafted operating agreement, but you’ll also be able to spend more time growing your business, planning your next move, or just relaxing.
We’ve already established the operating agreement’s profound importance in the life of your LLC. And while the document is flexible and customizable, the state outlines certain rules and restrictions for its power.
The West Virginia Code §31B-1-103 provides an overarching description of what the agreement can govern, stating that it’s responsible for dictating “the affairs of the company and the conduct of its business,” and regulating “relations among the members, managers, and company.” While vague, this umbrella statement covers most aspects of your LLC, allowing the agreement great influence and control.
Even so, it can’t do anything at all. Section 31B-1-103 presents a list of limitations that you’ll want to review as you craft your document. Most importantly, make sure that your operating agreement does not:
- Authorize any action deemed illegal by state or federal law
- Attempt to make your LLC exempt from West Virginia’s LLC business maintenance requirements and their affiliated penalties. For example, if you include a statement in the agreement saying your company doesn’t have to file Annual Reports, it won’t be valid.
Yes, the operating agreement can be a complex project, and there are a lot of guidelines to follow. But if you stick to this guide and obey the state’s laws, you’ll be good to go!