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Registered Agent Service

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The Role of the Secretary of State’s Office in Registered Agent Processes

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Your business must appoint a registered agent to receive documents in legal matters, including notice of lawsuit. Our reliable registered agent service fulfills this requirement. You get:

  • Same-day documents from our local offices in all 50 states.
  • Immediate online access to state forms with our address and, where required, our signature
  • Annual fees from $89Multi-Year Discount to $99 /year per state with no additional charges
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Whether you're starting a new business or expanding into a new state, you're required to submit information about your resident agent with the appropriate documents to the secretary of state or equivalent authority. However, the involvement of this government office in the registered agent’s proceedings goes beyond the initial document filings.

This guide will provide detailed insight into the secretary of state office’s role in relation to registered agent operations.

You'll also learn how Harbor Compliance, a trusted registered agent service provider, can help your business stay in good standing with the state.

Understanding the Role of a Registered Agent

A registered agent, also called a resident agent or statutory agent, is an individual or organization appointed to receive legal documents and government notifications on behalf of a business. They serve as the official point of contact between your business and the state where it operates.

The responsibilities of a resident agent include:

  • Receiving legal documents—This is the agent's core duty, and it entails accepting service of process, such as lawsuits and subpoenas, and forwarding them to the appropriate person in your organization.
  • Handling government correspondence—A statutory agent manages significant paperwork and government correspondence for a business, such as notices from the secretary of state.
  • Providing timely alerts—Your agent ensures you receive alerts about upcoming deadlines or necessary actions on time, protecting your business from potential liabilities like default judgments.
  • Maintaining business records—The agent keeps an accurate record of documents received from or on behalf of your business.

In most U.S. states and territories, appointing a registered agent is obligatory. Failure to do so can lead to serious consequences, including suspension, administrative dissolution, and legal liabilities from default judgments.

The Secretary of State’s Office—Registered Agent Processes

The main two scenarios where the secretary of state’s office or equivalent is involved in registered agent processes include:

  1. Processing the appointment of an agent
  2. Processing the change of an agent

Processing the Appointment of an Agent

When starting a new business, you're required to name a registered agent in your formation documents, namely:

  1. Articles of Organization for LLCs
  2. Articles of Incorporation for profit or nonprofit corporations

Once you choose and name your agent, you must submit the appropriate documents to the secretary of state's office. They then verify the information from your documents and check whether your registered agent meets the statutory requirements.

Processing the Change of an Agent

If you decide to change your registered agent, you must notify the secretary of state or equivalent office via the appropriate form. In most cases, you'll use the Statement of Change of Registered Agent form, but the exact name of the form can vary, depending on the state.

Most states require you to provide the new agent's contact info, physical address, and proof of contact. The secretary of state’s office then performs the necessary checks and updates your records, ensuring your business maintains good standing with the state.

Searching for a Registered Agent via the Secretary of State

The secretary of state's office also provides a platform you can use to search for a registered agent, which is useful in several instances, such as:

  • Looking for an organization's registered office—The office keeps the registered agent's address public for quick access by interested parties.
  • Checking whether a business is in good standing with the state—If a business doesn't have a registered agent in a particular state, there's a high possibility it's been dissolved by the state.
  • Serving legal and other documents to a business—Litigation notices are typically considered served when delivered to an organization's resident agent.

How To Find a Registered Agent Using the Secretary of State

If you need information about the registered agent for a specific company, the secretary of state's website for the state where it operates is your go-to resource. In most states, you can access this information by following five steps:

  1. Visit the secretary of state's website—Nearly all U.S. states and territories have a dedicated website for this office. You'll need to locate the one for the state where the business is registered.
  2. Find the business search function—On the website, there'll be a section dedicated to corporate or business services. Here, you'll also find a function that allows you to search for businesses, typically labeled “Business Search,” “Entity Search,” or something similar.
  3. Enter the business name—Input the exact name of the business. Accuracy is key here since even minor errors can affect your results.
  4. Review the results—A list of businesses matching your search criteria will be displayed. Ensure you select the correct business from this list.
  5. Access the business details—Once you've selected the appropriate business, you'll find the relevant information. You'll find details about the registered agent, the physical address where they're registered, and the business's standing with the state.

Is the Secretary of State’s Office Considered a Registered Agent?

In some states, such as New York, the secretary of state is considered the default registered agent for newly registered organizations. Still, depending on your needs and the state's laws, you may want or have to appoint another agent.

While the secretary of state can serve as a registered agent in some cases, it means trusting them to deliver time-sensitive documents. Given the nature of government operations, this may not always be the most reliable option. Unless it’s a legal requirement to have the secretary of state or equivalent office as your agent, it’s generally a good idea to appoint a commercial registered agent.

Can You Appoint the Secretary of State as Your Registered Agent?

You can appoint the secretary of state as your registered agent, but only if the state where the business is registered allows it. However, that's rarely the case.

The relevant laws governing the appointment of a statutory agent vary, and most states do not allow appointing this office as your registered agent. To stay on the safe side, always check the requirements of a particular state, whether you're planning to register or expand your business into it.

Legal Requirements for a Registered Agent

In most U.S. states and territories, you have three options when choosing a statutory agent:

  1. An individual over 18 residing in the state where your business is registered
  2. A domestic organization
  3. A foreign entity licensed to do business in the state

In any case, the agent must have a physical address in the state where your business operates—P.O. Boxes and virtual addresses are not accepted. The agent must also be available in the registered office during regular business hours to receive legal notices.

Although you can appoint an employee, friend, relative, or even yourself as your registered agent, doing so is not recommended. If the individual is out of town or has an emergency to attend to, you could miss important notices, resulting in penalties or default judgments against your business. The same goes if you are acting as your own registered agent.

Partnering with an organization serving as a registered agent (also known as a commercial registered agent) is often a safer approach. These organizations have teams of dedicated professionals who are always available to receive and promptly forward legal and tax documents. They also offer additional services to help you meet state requirements.

If you want to eliminate the potential drawbacks of appointing an individual as your resident agent, Harbor Compliance can be an excellent choice.

Registered Agent Service by Harbor Compliance

Harbor Compliance provides a robust Registered Agent Service designed to help businesses of all sizes and structures manage their legal and governmental correspondence. Our service encompasses everything you need to stay on top of legal notices, most notably:

  • Nationwide presence through our local offices in all U.S. states and territories
  • Same-day electronic delivery of legal and tax documents
  • A phone call to the designated person in your organization in case of lawsuits, ensuring you've received and read important notices
  • A secure Client Portal for easy access to your notices and pre-filled state forms

Beyond our Registered Agent Service, we offer a wide array of comprehensive solutions to help your organization meet other legal obligations. The table below shows some of our most sought-after services:

Category Services
Business licensing
Beneficial ownership information reporting
Document filing and retrieval
Entity lifecycle support
Nonprofit formation
Tax-related services

Individual Registered Agent vs. Harbor Compliance

Although it may seem affordable to appoint an individual as your resident agent, it comes with challenges. For instance, an agent must be available at the registered office during all business hours. If the individual serving as your agent is not present at the office at all times (due to illness, travel, or emergency), it increases the risk of a missed notice, which could jeopardize your business.

An individual also can't serve as a registered agent in multiple jurisdictions, limiting your options if your business operates in more than one state.

To eliminate these and other risks and concerns, you can partner with Harbor Compliance. Some of the benefits of using our service include:

  • Constant availability—Our local offices are open during all business hours, and someone from our team is always present to receive legal documents.
  • Privacy—When you appoint us, our details will be forwarded to the secretary of state, keeping yours private.
  • Discretion—We'll forward all notices through a secure Client Portal, eliminating the discomfort that comes with receiving them in front of employees.
  • Nationwide presence—We have local offices in all U.S. states and territories, so you can count on us to help you operate seamlessly across multiple jurisdictions.

How To Appoint Harbor Compliance as Your Registered Agent

You can appoint Harbor Compliance as your registered agent in three scenarios:

  1. Forming a new entity
  2. Expanding your business into another jurisdiction
  3. Changing your resident agent

Forming a New Legal Entity

If you're establishing a new organization, Harbor Compliance offers three entity formation services tailored to different businesses, including:

  1. Incorporation
  2. LLC formation
  3. Nonprofit formation

Once you select the service that suits your needs, we'll handle the formation process and appoint Harbor Compliance as your registered agent.

If you prefer a hands-on approach to registration, you can Order our Registered Agent Service as a standalone solution. In this case, you can appoint us in three steps:

  1. Sign up for the service.
  2. Find the address of our local office and pre-filled state forms in the Client Portal.
  3. Complete the forms and submit your filings to the secretary of state.

Expanding Your Organization

If you're expanding your business into another state, our Foreign Qualification Service package can help you meet all the legal requirements, eliminating delays. Complete the signup wizard, and we'll handle the required paperwork, including submitting all relevant filings and appointing Harbor Compliance as your resident agent at no additional cost for a year.

Changing Your Registered Agent

If you've already appointed a registered agent but wish to change them—whether it's yourself or a third-party agent—Harbor Compliance can complete the change on your behalf. Order the Registered Agent Service and select the Add Change of Agent Service option before checkout. We'll take over from there, including updating the secretary of state about the change.

Registered Agent FAQs

Below, you'll find answers to the most commonly asked questions about registered agent rules and requirements. If you don't find what you're looking for, visit our Information Center.

In most jurisdictions, the secretary of state's office is the government body that maintains records regarding registered agent proceedings. It verifies and keeps track of all information about agents for businesses operating in the state.

Yes, as the official point of contact between your business and the state, your registered agent is typically the first entity to receive notices from the secretary of state. The agent then forwards them to you for action.

If you appoint a registered agent, they must sign a consent form you'll file with the secretary of state. Without their consent, the state may reject your Statement of Change of Registered Agent.

If you have businesses in multiple states, you'll need a registered agent for each business in each state. You can appoint one service provider with local offices in all the states where your businesses are registered. This ensures consistency and convenient handling of legal documents.

If your registered agent resigns, you must immediately replace them and inform the secretary of state about the change. If a successor agent hasn't officially taken over the duties of the former agent within a specified period, depending on the state's laws, your business could lose its good standing with the state.

Enjoy Peace of Mind With Harbor Compliance's Registered Agent Service

Choosing Harbor Compliance as your registered agent helps you meet state regulations while ensuring you're up to speed on legal and government notices. Order our Registered Agent Service, and rest assured all your correspondence will be managed promptly and effectively.

To ensure your organization remains in good standing with the state, get a free Harbor Compliance Score™. Our acclaimed compliance platform can also help you stay on top of legal requirements, so we invite you to schedule a demonstration to see it in action.

If you need help meeting other regulatory requirements, reach out to inquire about our additional services.

To learn more about statutory agent regulations in different states and territories, refer to the table below:

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