Starting a business as a corporation, Limited Liability Company (LLC), Limited Liability Partnership (LLP) or Limited Partnership (LP) requires having a registered agent in Washington.  Learn who the registered agent is, their job duties and the requirements to be one.

What is a Registered Agent?

A registered agent is an individual or company, designated by the entity to receive important legal documents on behalf of the business.  In essence, the registered agent is the mailbox for the entity.

Why is a Registered Agent Required in Washington?

A registered agent is required by the Secretary of State when forming a Washington LLC, corporation, LLP or LP.  This appointment is first made in the entity formation documents (Certificate of Formation or Articles of Incorporation), but can be changed at any time.

Sole proprietorships and general partnerships do not need a registered agent.

The requirements for an entity to have a registered agent are formed under Washington Statutes Section 25.15.021 (LLC) and Section 23B.05.010 (corporation) which mandate registered entities will have and continuously maintain a registered agent and registered office within the state.  The agent must be available during normal business hours to accept any service of process, notice or demand pertaining to the entity and forward it to the appropriate individuals.  

The reason for having one makes sense.  If a business is owned by a single-person, it’s easy to determine who should be notified in the event of a lawsuit or tax notice.  However, if a business has several owners, members or partners, it could be difficult to determine who the correct contact is.  By requiring a central point of contact in the state there is no question that time-sensitive documents are going to the right person in a timely manner.

What happens if you don’t have a Registered Agent?

For starters, the Washington Secretary of State won’t approve the formation of the entity without one. 

Even after starting the business, a registered agent and registered office must be continuously maintained.  Not having one can result in issues such as:

  • Not Receiving Legal Notices – If the listed registered agent isn’t able to receive legal notices, this doesn’t mean a lawsuit can’t proceed.  If a process server is unsuccessful in reaching the company’s registered agent, the court can proceed with the case. This could result in a judgement being placed against the business without the owners knowing.
  • Administrative Dissolution – In Washington, if the business doesn’t have a registered agent, the Secretary of State can dissolve the entity.   
  • Penalties and Fees – By not maintaining a current registered agent, penalties and fees can be levied against the entity and in some cases the owners too.  Once an entity is no longer in good standing with the state, the owners have lost their liability protection and are at risk personally.

Who can be a Registered Agent in Washington?

A registered agent in Washington can be any resident of the state who is 18 years or older, a registered Washington domestic business entity or a foreign business entity authorized to do business in the state. An entity cannot designate itself as its own registered agent.

The registered agent needs to have a physical address (often referred to as a registered office or principal office) in the state of Washington.  This can be your home address, the address of an accountant or attorney, the address of the business, or a registered agent service. Basically, any physical address in the state may be used with the exception of PO Boxes and mail drop services are not acceptable, since someone has to be available to sign and accept documents. 

The agent will also need to be available to receive Service of Process on behalf of the business during normal business hours. Service of process refers to the delivery of legal documents, often a summons, subpoena or lawsuit filed against a business entity. 

Can I be my own Registered Agent in Washington?

Yes!  Any individual, owner, member, officer, director, etc of a business entity that meets the above state requirements can be a registered agent.

Why use a Commercial Registered Agent Service?

Provided one of the members or officers live in Washington, it is often more convenient and less expensive to act as your own agent rather than hiring a service.  While this is the route many businesses take, there are a few reasons to consider hiring a service.

  • Privacy – The address of the registered agent becomes public record and is available for anybody to see.  This can be especially concerning if someone is doing business on the side and they don’t want their employer knowing about the business.  Also, if the business is sued, the notice will be delivered to the address on file.  This could mean employees, customers or even neighbors witnessing the event.   There is always the remote possibility a vindictive litigant or upset customer showing up at your house.
  • Availability – Washington requires the registered agent be available at the principal address during normal business hours.  The biggest issue with availability, especially if a home address is used, is if the agent goes on vacation or is otherwise away for some period of time and can’t be reached.
  • If the Business Expands to Additional Locations – If the business will have a physical presence in multiple states (offices, warehouses, employees, etc.), a foreign entity registration will often need to be filed with those states.  A registered agent will need to be appointed with a physical address in each state.
  • Annual Notices – Registered agent services provide reminders on the state requirements such as annual report filings.

How much does a Registered Agent cost?

If you act as your own Registered Agent, there is no cost. Depending on the services provided, a commercial Registered Agent service typically costs between $100-$150 per year. Northwest Registered Agent’s service is $125 per year and offers several extras. Some entity formation companies like IncFile, include a Registered Agent at no cost for the first year when you register your corporation or LLC with them.

Can I change my Registered Agent?

A registered agent can be changed by submitting the Statement of Change Registered Agent or Office Form along with the filing fee to the Secretary of State.

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