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April 5, 2014

Indiana Limited Liablity Companies and the Required Formalities

iStock_000034659194Small.jpgA primary reason to organize a business as a corporation or a limited liability company (LLC) is to protect the owners from personal liability for the debts of the business. Sometimes, however, a court may "pierce the corporate veil" of a business to hold the owners of the business personally liable for the company's obligations.

In deciding whether to pierce the corporate veil, Indiana courts examine and weigh several factors, including whether the owners of the business have observed the required formalities for the particular form of organization. One of the reasons we generally favor LLCs for small businesses is that there are fewer required formalities for LLCs than for corporations, which in turn means that there is not only a lower administrative burden associated with LLCs, but also fewer opportunities for business owners to miss something. However, there are a few requirements, discussed below.

1. An Indiana LLC must have written articles of organization, and the articles must be filed with the Indiana Secretary of State .

There's almost no need to mention this one because an LLC does not even exist until its articles of organization are filed with the Secretary of State, but for the sake of being complete . . .

The articles of organization must state:

  • The name of the LLC, which must include "limited liability company," "LLC," or "L.L.C."
  • The name of the LLC's registered agent and the address of its registered office (discussed in more detail below).
  • Either that the LLC will last in perpetuity or the events upon which the LLC will be dissolved.
  • Whether the LLC will be managed by its members or by managers. (Technically, the articles can remain silent on this point, in which case the LLC will be managed by its members, but the Secretary of State's forms call for a statement one way or the other.)

2. An Indiana LLC must have a registered agent and a registered office within the State of Indiana.

The purpose of this requirement is to give people who sue the LLC a way to serve the complaints and summons. The registered office must be located within Indiana, and it must have a street address. A post office box is not sufficient. The registered agent must be an individual, a corporation, an LLC, or a non-profit corporation whose business address is the same as the registered office's address.

The registered office and registered agent must be identified in the articles of incorporation and in the business entity reports (discussed below) filed every other year with the Indiana Secretary of State, but the requirement to have a registered office and registered agent applies all the time, not just when those filings are made. If the LLC's registered agent resigns, the LLC must name a new one and file a notice with the Secretary of State within 60 days.

In addition, LLCs formed after July 1, 2014, are required to file the registered agent's written consent to serve as registered agent or a representation that the registered agent has consented. That new requirement was established by Senate Bill 377, passed by the 2014 General Assembly and signed into law by the governor.

3. An Indiana LLC must keep its registered agent informed of the name, business address, and business telephone number of a natural person who is authorized to receive communications from the registered agent.

This is another new requirement contained in Senate Bill 377. It takes effect on July 1, 2014.

4. An Indiana LLC must maintain certain records at its principal place of business.

The required records are:

• A list of the names and addresses of current and former members and managers of the LCC.
• A copy of the articles of organization and all amendments.
• Copies of the LLC's tax returns and financial statements for the three most recent years (or, if no tax returns or statements were prepared, copies of the information that was or should have been supplied to the members so they could file their tax returns).
• Copies of any written operating agreements and amendments, including those no longer in effect.
• A statement of all capital contributions made by all members.
• A statement of the events upon which members will be required to make additional capital contributions.
• The events, if any, upon which the LLC would be dissolved.
• Any other records required by the operating agreement.

[Note: Ind. Code 23-18-4-8(e) provides that the failure to keep the above records is NOT grounds for imposing personal liability on members for the obligations of the LLC. It's more likely to become an issue in the event of a dispute among the members. Thanks to Josh Hollingsworth of Barnes & Thornburg for reminding me. MS:4/7/2014].

5. An Indiana LLC must file a business entity report with the Secretary of State every two years.

The report is due at the end of the month that contains an even-numbered anniversary of the filing of the articles of organization. Failure to file the report within 60 days of the due date is grounds for administrative dissolution of the LLC.

Continue reading "Indiana Limited Liablity Companies and the Required Formalities" »

March 25, 2014

The Difference Between Tax Status and Legal Form of a Business or Nonprofit

iStock_000005953904Small.jpgI just read a report by the Small Business Administation that includes a wealth of statistics and other information about small businesses in the United States. As useful as the report is, it contains a mistake that, although commonly made, one would not expect from the SBA. The last item in the report asks the question, "What legal form are small businesses?" That's a good question, but the SBA didn't answer it. Instead, it answered another question, "What is the tax status of small business?" Even though the two questions are related, they are nonetheless distinct, and answering the second question does not answer the first.

Legal Form of a Business or Nonprofit

As we've discussed before, businesses are commonly organized according to one of a handful of legal forms: sole proprietorships, general partnerships, corporations, and limitied liability companies. There are a few others used less frequently, including limited partnerships, limited liability partnerships, and professional corporations. Tax exempt organizations are commonly organized as nonprofit corporations, but they can also be organized as unincorporated associations, charitable trusts, and sometimes limited liability companies.

The legal form of a business or tax exempt organization is primarily related to two fundamental attributes: who controls the organization, and who is liable for the organization's obligations. For example, if a business is structured as a general partnership, the partners collectively control the business and the partners are individually liable for the obligations of the partnership. In contrast, if a business is structured as a corporation, it is probably controlled by a board of directors, elected by the shareholders and acting through the officers. Unless something goes wrong, neither the shareholders, the directors, nor the officers are liable for the corporaton's obligations.

Tax Categories

Although selecting the legal form of an organization determines the attributes of control and liability, it does not determine how much income tax the organization must pay. There are four common possibilities of tax status for businesses and nonprofit organizations, categorized by the applicable subchapter of Chapter 1 of Subtitle A of Title 26 of the United States Code (also known as the Internal Revenue Code): Subchapter C (the default provisions for corporations), Subchapter S (which is an alternative to Subchapter C that can be elected by small business corporations that meet the eligibility criteria), Subchapter K (for partnerships), and Subchapter F (for tax exempt organizations). Finally, some types of legal forms that have a single owner, such as sole proprietorships, are diregarded for income tax purposes, with their income reported on the owner's income tax return. Those businesses or nonprofit organizations are known as, appropriately enough, "disregarded entities."

Each of these tax categories can apply to more than one type of legal form of organization, and with two exceptions (sole proprietorships and general partnerships), each legal form has more than one possibility for the tax category, as shown in the chargt below. Even nonprofit corporations have more than one possibility; while most nonprofit corporations are organized with the intent of qualifying for Subchapter F (exempt organizations), if a nonprofit corporation fails to meet the criteria for tax exemption, it will be subject to taxation under Subchapter C.

Thumbnail image for Legal Form Tax Status Table cropped.jpg

Now you won't make the same mistake that the SBA made.


Continue reading "The Difference Between Tax Status and Legal Form of a Business or Nonprofit" »

July 30, 2013

Positive Change in Indiana LLC Laws - Part Two: Even More Flexibility in Management Structure

100_3698.JPGEarlier this year the General Assembly passed HEA 1394 which made several changes to the Indiana Business Flexibility Act, the statute that governs limited liability companies. We have already looked at some changes to the Act that enhance the use of Indiana LLCs for estate planning purposes. This article discusses new alternatives for LLC management structure.

The Indiana Business Flexibility Act already provided for a great deal of flexibility for management structure. One of the key steps in designing the management structure of a limited liability company is to establish who has the apparent authority to bind the company, for example by signing contracts on behalf of the LLC. Prior to the changes there were essentially two choices. In a member-managed LLC, the members have that authority. In a manager-managed LLC, the members appoint managers (who may or may not also be members) who have that authority.

HEA 1394 provides a third choice -- officers, who may or may not be members. At first blush, there may seem to be little difference between officers and managers because, like the managers in a manager-managed LLC, officers have the apparent authority to bind the LLC to third party agreements. But there is at least one important difference: In a manager-managed LLC, only the managers, and not the members, have the apparent authority to bind the company. The new revisions allow the members of an LLC to establish officers who have the apparent authority to bind the company, while also retaining that authority themselves. In fact, a manager-managed LLC can also have officers. In that case, both the managers and the officers, but not the members, have apparent authority to bind the LLC.

HEA 1394 includes other changes to the statute that enhance the alternatives for LLC governance. For example, the Act now permits the operating agreement to make certain significant decisions, including mergers, dissolutions, and amendments to the operating agreement, subject to the approval of a third party who need not be a member.

One context in which such provisions may prove useful is in estate planning. Imagine the founder of a business, held by a limited liability company, with multiple heirs, who wants the business to remain in the family. Although the operating agreement may create significant restrictions on transfers of membership interests and admission of new members, the heirs could later agree to amend the operating agreement to remove those restrictions. The Act now allows the operating agreement to name a trusted outside party who must approve any amendments to the operating agreement, thus increasing the likelihood that the founder's desires will be honored.

Continue reading "Positive Change in Indiana LLC Laws - Part Two: Even More Flexibility in Management Structure" »

July 1, 2013

Positive Changes to Indiana LLC Law - Part One: Estate Planning

100_3698.JPGEarlier this year the Indiana General Assembly passed House Enrolled Act 1394, which takes effect today, July 1, and makes several amendments to the Indiana LLC statute, officially known as the Indiana Business Flexibility Act. This is the first of two articles discussing those changes. This first article addresses some amendments that should enhance the use of LLCs for estate planning purposes, and the second will discuss changes that expressly address the use of officers in the management of limited liability companies.

Permissible Purposes for LLCs
With the new amendments, Section 6 of the Indiana Business Flexibility Act now explicitly states that LLCs may be used not only for business purposes but also for personal and nonprofit purposes. For an example of a personal purpose, a married couple who own a vacation cabin and want it to remain in the family after they are gone might place the cabin in a limited liability company and then, by gift, by will, or by other means, transfer the ownership of the LLC to their children or grandchildren. Because the cabin is not used to generate income, the purpose of the LLC is personal, not business.

Although the circumstances in which the IRS will grant an LLC recognition of tax-exempt status under Section 501(c)(3) are limited, the change to the Indiana Business Flexibility Act confirms that Indiana LLCs may be used for those purposes.

It is debatable whether the amendment actually expands the purposes for which an LLC may be used because the prior language was in fact quite broad; however the new language reduces the uncertainty behind permissible purposes by expressly authorizing personal and nonprofit purposes.

Transferring LLC Interests to Heirs
There are two other changes that should increase the use of LLCs for estate planning, both to Section 10 of the Indiana Business Flexibility Act. One of the changes expressly permits LLC interests to be held in what is known as "joint tenancy with right of survivorship" or simply a "joint tenancy." A joint tenancy involves two or more people who both own property but with one key difference from other forms of common ownership: the right, upon death of one of the tenants, for the remaining tenant(s) to take the entire property as an undivided whole. In a simple scenario, two spouses own a home as joint tenants - when one dies, the other takes title to the entire home -- without going through the sometimes costly probate process.

The other change expressly permits LLC interests to be held as Transfer-upon-death property. This simply means that upon the holder's death the member interest can pass to one or more named beneficiaries, again without having to go through probate. However, unlike joint tenancy, the beneficiary does not own any interest in the property until the death of the original owner.

Estate Planning with the New Amendments
Historically, a corporation was the standard entity of choice for businesses, and limited partnerships have been one of the frequently used tools of estate ploanning. In recent years, however, LLC's have overtaken corporations in popularity for businesses. With changes such as the ones to the Indiana Business Flexibility Act, LLCs may also replace limited partnerships in popularity for estate plans.

Continue reading "Positive Changes to Indiana LLC Law - Part One: Estate Planning" »

May 29, 2013

Seminar: What Estate Planners Need to Know About LLC Formation

On June 26, 2013, from 11:00 am until 12:30 pm EDT, I'll be teaching a National Business Institute teleconference seminar, "What Estate Planners Need to Know About LLC Formation."

Limited liability companies are incorporated more and more frequently into estate plans. A common structure is a limited liability company owned by a living trust, with a business or other assets held by the LLC. The living trust provides the mechanism for the business or other assets to be passed to the grantor's heirs without going through probate, and the LLC provides a liability shield to protect the grantor's other assets from creditors with a claim against the LLC. Another common estate planning tool is a family limited partnership, and a limited liability company can often be used to serve the same purposes while providing additional advantages.

The seminar is designed (surprise!) for estate planners who want to know more about the issues associated with creating and setting up LLCs. Click here to register for the seminar.

Continue reading "Seminar: What Estate Planners Need to Know About LLC Formation" »

February 8, 2013

Proposed Changes to Indiana LLC Statute Part 2: Charging Order Protection

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UPDATE, February 19, 2013.
Yesterday, the House Judiciary Committee amended HB1394 to remove the language discussed in this blog post -- the changes to IC 23-18-6-7 that would have expressly provided that a charging order is the only right that the creditor of an LLC member has with respect to the LLC. It appears that Indiana will remain in the fourth category of states listed in the article -- those in which there is no reverse veil piercing for multi-member LLCs, with the issue remaining unsettled with respect to single member LLCs. The most recent version of the bill is available here.


In my last post, I discussed HB 1394, a bill pending in the Indiana General Assembly that would make several amendments to the statute that governs Indiana limited liability companies. One of the most important changes is to strengthen the so-called "charging order" protection, which I'll describe shortly after a brief review of some attributes of LLCs and corporations.

Recall that corporations and LLCs both have liability shields that protect the owners of the company (for a corporation, the shareholders; for a limited liability company, the members) from being personally liable for the company's obligations. That liability shield (whether it's for a corporation or LLC) is sometimes called a corporate veil, and in some circumstances courts will ignore the shield, or pierce the corporate veil, to allow creditors of the business to reach the personal assets of the owners. I've previously discussed precautions that LLC members can take to keep that from happening.

When a court allows a creditor of the business to reach the personal assets of the owners, it's sometimes called "inside-out veil piercing," which implies there might be something else called "outside-in veil piercing." And there is.

Consider what happens when a shareholder of a corporation owes money to a creditor. The shareholder's stock is just like any other asset, like a bank account, a house, or a car. And just like any other asset (well, most other assets), the stock is subject to foreclosure, which effectively means the creditor takes over ownership. The creditor, now the new shareholder, receives all the rights associated with the stock, including the economic rights (i.e., the right to receive dividends, if there are any) and the non-economic rights (including the right to vote in elections of the board of directors). That's called "outside-in veil piercing" or sometimes "reverse veil piercing." If the creditor takes over enough shares of stock, he or she can gain control of the company. Even if the creditor does not gain control of the company, the other shareholders may suddenly find themselves co-owners with someone they don't even know, maybe even with someone they despise. For large, publicly traded companies with millions of shareholders, that's no big deal. For family businesses or other businesses with only a few shareholders, it can be a very big deal.

The area of reverse veil piercing is one in which LLCs differ tremendously from corporations, at least in some states, and it is one of the reasons that I advise clients to set up LLC's far more often than I advise them to set up corporations. When it comes to the rights of a member's creditors, many states, including Indiana, treat the member's economic rights and non-economic rights separately. For example, IC 23-18-6-7 allows a court to issue an order requiring a limited liability company to pay to a member's creditors anything that the LLC would otherwise be required to pay to the member. That's called a charging order, and it's something like an order for the garnishment of wages, applied to a member's right to receive LLC distributions.

The question is whether a charging order is the only remedy a creditor has against the member's rights. If so, there is no reverse veil piercing, and a member's creditors cannot take over control of the business or gain a seat at the table with the other members. I believe there are currently five categories of states:

  1. Those in which reverse veil piercing is not allowed for LLCs.
  2. Those in which reverse veil piercing is allowed for single-member LLCs but not for multi-member LLCs.
  3. Those in which reverse veil piercing is allowed for both single-member LLCs and multi-member LLCs (essentially treating LLCs the same as corporations).
  4. Those in which there is no reverse veil piercing for multi-member LLCs but for which the law is unresolved for single-member LLCs.
  5. Those in which the law is unresolved for reverse veil piercing both single-member and multi-member LLCs.

Until fairly recently, Indiana was in the fourth group of states. As I've discussed elsewhere, a 2005 decision of the Indiana Court of Appeals, Brant v. Krilich, held that there is no reverse veil-piercing for multi-member LLCs, but apparently leaving the question open for single-member LLCs.

HB 1394 would add a provision to IC 23-18-6-7 expressly stating that a charging order is the exclusive remedy for a judgment creditor of a member and that the creditor has no right to foreclose on the member's interest. Because the bill makes no distinction between single-member and multi-member LLCs, it appears that HB 1394 would place Indiana in the first category of states -- those for which reverse veil piercing is not allowed for either single-member or multi-member LLCs.

Continue reading "Proposed Changes to Indiana LLC Statute Part 2: Charging Order Protection" »

January 29, 2013

Proposed Changes to Indiana LLC Statute

100_3698.JPGStatutes governing limited liability companies, or LLCs, vary considerably from state to state. In our opinion, Indiana's statute is already among the best in the country, and a bill introduced in the 2013 session of the Indiana General Assembly proposes several changes that would make it even better for small business owners, particularly family-owned businesses. Among other things, HB 1394, introduced by Rep. Greg Steuerwald (R Avon) would:

Later posts will discuss these proposed changes in more detail, including a few suggestions for possible revisions to the bill that would make it even better. In the meantime, however, small business owners in Indiana may want to contact their state representatives and senators urging them to support HB 1394.

Continue reading "Proposed Changes to Indiana LLC Statute" »

January 28, 2013

Letter About Annual Minutes is a Scam -- but Notice About Business Entity Reports is Not!

iStock_000011065644XSmall.jpgThe Indiana Secretary of State has issued a warning about a deceptive letter being received by some Indiana businesses. The letter asks for a fee -- typically $125 or $150 -- to cover the processing of the minutes of a corporation's annual meeting. It is designed to appear as if it is from a state agency, the "Indiana Corporate Compliance Business Division," and it includes a citation to a fictitious law. In fact, it is not from a state agency, and there is no requirement to pay any such fees to the state.

If you receive a letter like the one described above, ignore it. If you have already responded to a letter like this, you may contact the Business Services Division of the Indiana Secretary of State's office at (317) 232-6576.

However, if you receive a letter from the Indiana Secretary of State's office informing you that a business entity report is due by the end of the following month, DO NOT IGNORE IT!

Indiana business corporations and limited liability companies are required to submit a business entity report every two years during the month of the anniversary of the filing of the articles of incorporation or articles of organization. For example, if your articles of incorporation or articles of organization were filed in April of an even-numbered year, a business entity report is due in April of every even-numbered year.

Indiana nonprofit corporations are required to file business entity reports (even though a nonprofit corporation is not usually considered to be a "business") every year in the month of the anniversary of the filing of the articles of incorporation. If the articles of incorporation of your nonprofit were filed in August, a business entity report is due every August.

Business entity reports may be filed on paper or online. The filing fee for business corporations and limited liability companies is $30, and the fee for nonprofits is $10. In both instances, modest discounts are given for filing online.

The Secretary of State's office sends out reminder notices near the end of the month before your business entity report is due, but do not rely on those letters as your only reminder. Because the reports are due even if you do not receive the letter, you should make sure the report is placed on your compliance calendar.

If your organization does not file its business entity reports on time, it is subject to administrative dissolution by the Secretary of State. If that happens, it is possible to have your corporation or LLC reinstated, but the process can be time consuming. It's far better to stay in compliance to begin with.

Continue reading "Letter About Annual Minutes is a Scam -- but Notice About Business Entity Reports is Not!" »

March 7, 2011

Just what IS a limited liability company? Part 7. It's a bundle of tax choices.

[This is the last of a seven-part series of posts discussing the characteristics of limited liability companies and comparing them to the characteristics of corporations, general partnerships, and sole proprietorships. Here's the entire list.

Part 1. Background on sole proprietorships.
Part 2. Background on partnerships.
Part 3. Background on corporations.
Part 4. LLCs are distinct legal entities, separate from their owners.
Part 5. A limited liability company's owners are not liable for the LLC's obligations.
Part 6. Options for an LLC's management structure.
Part 7. Options for an LLC's tax treatment.]

iStock_000007266907XSmall.jpgIn prior posts, I've discussed several characteristics of LLCs. First, like corporations, LLCs are entities separate from their owners. Second, also like corporations, the owners are not liable for the obliigations of the LLC. Third, they offer choices of management structures: They can be managed directly by the owners, like sole proprietorships and many partnerships, or they can be managed by others who are selected by the owners, in much the same way that shareholders of a corporation elect directors to run the business. This last post of the series looks at the tax characteristics of LLCs.

Interestingly, LLCs do not have a specific category in the Internal Revenue Code or the Tax Regulations. Instead, their tax treatment is governed by the so-called "check-the-box regulation." It provides that the LLC may elect to be treated in one of several ways, and the choices depend on whether the LLC has one member or more than one member.

The default status for a single-member LLC is that it is a "disregarded entity" in that all the income and expenses go directly on the member's personal tax return, just like a sole proprietorship. The LLC itself doesn't even have to file a tax return. The default status for a multi-member LLC is to be taxed as if it were a partnership. Alternatively, either a single-member LLC or a multi-member LLC can elect to be taxed as if it were a corporation, either as a Subchapter C corporation or, if the LLC meets certain criteria, as a Subchapter S corporation. To decide which is the best tax strategy for your LLC, you should consult both your lawyer and your accountant.

Continue reading "Just what IS a limited liability company? Part 7. It's a bundle of tax choices." »

February 20, 2011

Just what IS a limited liability company? Part 6. It offers choices of management structure.

[This is the sixth post in a seven-part series discussing the characteristics of limited liability companies and comparing them to the characteristics of corporations, general partnerships, and sole proprietorships. Here's the entire list.

Part 1. Background on sole proprietorships.
Part 2. Background on partnerships.
Part 3. Background on corporations.
Part 4. LLCs are distinct legal entities, separate from their owners.
Part 5. A limited liability company's owners are not liable for the LLC's obligations.
Part 6. Options for an LLC's management structure.
Part 7. Options for an LLC's tax treatment.]

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for iStock_000008153479XSmall.jpgPrevious posts discussed the management structures of the three classic business entities that we're using as a framework for discussing limited liability companies and, in particular, exactly who is responsible for running the business day-to-day.

Sole Proprietorships. Remember Drucker's General Store, the example I used to illustrate sole proprietorships? Sam Drucker ran his own store on a day-to-day basis. In fact, I'm not sure Sam even had any employees. That's the prototypical management structure for a sole proprietorship -- the proprietor himself or herself runs the business on a day-to-day basis.

Corporations. Once again, corporations are at the opposite end of the spectrum from sole proprietorships. As discussed earlier,the owners of a corporation (i.e., the shareholders), have no role in the day-to-day operation of the business. Instead, their role is limited to electing a board of directors who, in turn, usually delegate responsibility to officers and employees of the company. Of course, in a closely held company, it's very common for the owners, acting as shareholders, to elect themselves as directors and then to appoint themselves as officers.

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General Partnerships. The management structure of general partnerships varies a bit more, but usually the day to day affairs are managed by the partners themselves -- by all of the partners, or by a management committee composed of partners, or by a single managing partner.

Limited Liability Companies. Fundamentally, there are two different ways limited liability companies can be managed -- by the members themselves or by one or more managers, who are appointed by the members. In other words, a limited liability company has the flexibility to be managed like a sole proprietorship and many partnerships are managed -- by the owners of the business themselves. However, it's also possible for the owners to be relatively far removed from the day-to-day operation of the company, with a role largely restricted to appointing one or more managers to operate the LLC. Note, however, that the members of a manager-managed LLC are free to name one or more of their own as manager(s).

Even a single-member LLC has the same choices of management by the members or management by managers. A few days ago, in explaining why a single-member LLC needs an operating agreement, I touched on some of the reasons that the sole owner of a limited liability company might choose to make their LLC manager-managed.

So one of the advantages of a limited liability company is that it offers choices for management structure. Next we'll see that a limited liability company offers choices for tax treatment as well.

Continue reading "Just what IS a limited liability company? Part 6. It offers choices of management structure." »

February 18, 2011

Why should a single-member LLC have an operating agreement?

Thumbnail image for 1065245_79106935.jpgUnder current Indiana law, you can easily start up a limited liability company (LLC) with a credit card and an internet connection. After making a quick trip to the Indiana Secretary of State's website, submitting articles of organization, and paying a fee you could have your very own LLC in about fifteen minutes. But what about creating an operating agreement for your LLC? Nothing about that process requires -- or even mentions -- an operating agreement. Strictly speaking, it's not legally required, and if the LLC has only one member, an operating agreement may even seem pointless. Nonetheless, I advise all my clients with LLCs -- even single-member LLCs -- to have operating agreements.

The reason the Indiana Business Flexibility Act does not require an operating agreement is that it contains default rules that govern the LLC if there is no operating agreement (or if there is an operating agreement but it doesn't address every issue). However, those default rules may or may not be what you want. Having an operating agreement created specifically for the needs and goals of your single-member LLC can help sort out which aspects of the Indiana Business Flexibility Act will apply to your LLC and which will be overridden.

A particular reason that I think single-member LLCs should have an operating agreement flows from the fact that I think most single-member LLCs (at least those owned by individuals rather than by another business entity) should be manager-managed rather than member-managed. Imagine you are the sole member of your own LLC, and it is member-managed. That means that you, and only you, have the authority to take actions on behalf of the LLC. Now imagine that you are in a serious accident and unable to manage your business for an extended period of time. There is no one who can step into your shoes and run the business in your absence.

However, imagine that you set the business up as a manager-managed LLC. You can name yourself as the manager and some other trusted person, such as your spouse, as the assistant manager who has the authority to step in and run the LLC if you are not able to. To do that, you'll need an operating agreement that describes the authority of the other person to run the business when you can't.

It's also likely that third parties, such as banks and the IRS, will want to know various details about how the LLC is organized. An operating agreement includes information like who has the authority to sign contracts for the LLC, the LLC's tax status, and other legally meaningful information. Being able to hand a third party a single document that clearly lays out all of the legally significant details about the LLC can save a lot of time and confusion for the member and the entities the LLC does business with.

Continue reading "Why should a single-member LLC have an operating agreement?" »

February 17, 2011

Just what IS a limited liability company? Part 5. It has a liability shield.

[This is the fifth post in a seven-part series discussing the characteristics of limited liability companies and comparing them to the characteristics of corporations, general partnerships, and sole proprietorships. Here's the entire list.

Part 1. Background on sole proprietorships.
Part 2. Background on partnerships.
Part 3. Background on corporations.
Part 4. LLCs are distinct legal entities, separate from their owners.
Part 5. A limited liability company's owners are not liable for the LLC's obligations.
Part 6. Options for an LLC's management structure.
Part 7. Options for an LLC's tax treatment.]

Thumbnail image for iStock_000006322570XSmall.jpgThe last entry in this series explained that a limited liability company has its own legal identity, separate from its members. A related concept is that a limited liability company has a liability shield, sometimes called a corporate veil, between itself and its members. That means that the members of a limited liability company are not liable for the debts or obligations of the LLC itself, just as the shareholders of a corporation are not liable for the debts or obligations of the corporation itself.

To see how that works, let's imagine that you and two of your good friends, Jack and Jill, decide to buy a bicycle shop. You consult an attorney, and he recommends that you create a limited liability company to buy the shop. He writes an operating agreement for you, which all three of you sign, files articles of organization in the Indiana Secretary of State's office, and takes care of other details such as obtaining an Employer Identification Number . At that point you are the proud owners of a limited liability company Three Good Friends, LLC . (By the way, there is no such LLC in Indiana. I know that because I ran a search on the Secretary of State's website.) The purpose of the LLC is to buy and run a bicycle shop. To raise the money, you and Jill each drain your savings accounts, and Jack mortgages his house to the hilt. All three of you put the money (called your initial capital contributions) into the LLC, and with that money the LLC buys a bicycle shop, which you rename as Three Good Friends Bicycle Emporium. The LLC's lawyer files a certificate of assumed business name showing that Three Good Friends, LLC is now doing business as Three Good Friends Bicycle Emporium.

While you're working in the shop one afternoon, a delivery truck arrives. A LARGE delivery truck. The driver comes in and asks where you'd like to put the 700 bicycles you ordered. (I don't know if a single truck can actually hold 700 bicycles, but cut me some slack and go with me on this.) You tell him there must be some mistake because you ordered only 7 bicycles. After a frantic search through your computer files, you realize that a mistake was indeed made -- and that you're the one who made it. You really did order 700 bicycles. And they're expensive bicycles. VERY expensive. You make a few phone calls and find out that the bicycles cannot be returned and that the shop will have to pay for them. You also know that there's not nearly enough money in the LLC's bank account to pay for the bicycles.

You tell Jack and Jill what happened, expecting them to be furious -- and Jack is. As Jack often does, he imagines the worst. He says that the bicycle manufacturer is going to sue not only the shop but all three of you. He worries that not only will the three of you lose the business, but that he'll lose his house, which he mortgaged to the hilt to come up with the money for the business. Jill, being her characteristically calm self, tells Jack not to worry. The reason that they set up a limited liability company was so that none of the three good friends can be held liable for the debts of Three Good Friends Bicycle Emporium. She tells Jack that even if the LLC goes bankrupt, his house is safe from the bicycle manufacturer. Is Jill right?


Continue reading "Just what IS a limited liability company? Part 5. It has a liability shield." »

February 17, 2011

Just what IS a limited liability company? Part 4. It's a separate legal entity.

[This is the fourth post in a seven-part series discussing the characteristics of limited liability companies and comparing them to the characteristics of corporations, general partnerships, and sole proprietorships. Here's the entire list.

Part 1. Background on sole proprietorships.
Part 2. Background on partnerships.
Part 3. Background on corporations.
Part 4. LLCs are distinct legal entities, separate from their owners.
Part 5. A limited liability company's owners are not liable for the LLC's obligations.
Part 6. Options for an LLC's management structure.
Part 7. Options for an LLC's tax treatment.]

iStock_000005422636XSmall.jpgTo set the background for a discussion of the basics of limited liability companies, we've discussed sole proprietorships, partnerships, and corporations. As we'll see, a limited liability company shares some characteristics with corporations and other characteristics with sole proprietorships (if the LLC has one owner, called a member) or partnerships (if the LLC has more than one member).

The first thing to recognize about a limited liability company is that it is a separate legal entity, apart from its owners. How does that compare to the other structures? First, a sole proprietorship is NOT a separate legal entity apart from its owner. If you're running a business as a sole proprietorship, you really ARE the business, and the business is you.

At the other end of the spectrum, a corporation is a distinct legal entity, completely separate from its shareholders. For example a corporation can sue and be sued in its own name, It can enter into contracts in its own name. And it can go into bankruptcy without dragging its owners with it.

In the middle of the spectrum is a partnership. Without getting into all the details, I'll just say that for some purposes a partnership has the characteristics of a separate legal entity, and for other purposes a partnership is treated more like the aggregate of all the partners.

So in this sense, a limited liability company is just like a corporation. It is a separate legal entity, apart from its members. It can sue and be sued; it can enter into contracts; and it can go into bankruptcy, all apart from its members. And all that is true even if the LLC has only a single member.

Next we'll discuss another way that a limited liability company is like a corporation -- the liability shield.

Continue reading "Just what IS a limited liability company? Part 4. It's a separate legal entity." »

February 2, 2011

Indiana General Assembly Report: L3C Bill Introduced

In the next few days, I'll get back toThumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for 100_3697.JPG the discussion of the basics of limited liability companies, but first I want to mention a bill that has been introduced in the Indiana General Assembly that takes on an advanced, cutting-edge topic: the low-profit, limited liability company or "L3C." The bill is Senate Bill 501, authored by Sen. Brandt Hershman (R-Lafayette).

The L3C is a new variation on a limited liability company. The primary purpose of the L3C is to pursue a charitable mission, with the generation of a profit being a secondary purpose. The L3C is not, itself, a tax exempt organization. Instead, it is intended to be a vehicle that can attract both private capital and philanthropic investments to address issues such as low income housing.

Why? Primarily because the L3C is designed to be eligible for program related investments from private foundations. A program related investment is an alternative to a traditional philanthropic grant. An example of the use of program related investments in Indiana is the support of charter schools by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

You can read more about L3C's from Americans for Community Development.

Continue reading "Indiana General Assembly Report: L3C Bill Introduced" »

January 30, 2011

Just what IS a limited liability company? Part 3. It's not a corporation.

[This is the third post in a seven-part series discussing the characteristics of limited liability companies and comparing them to the characteristics of corporations, general partnerships, and sole proprietorships. Here's the entire list.

Part 1. Background on sole proprietorships.
Part 2. Background on partnerships.
Part 3. Background on corporations.
Part 4. LLCs are distinct legal entities, separate from their owners.
Part 5. A limited liability company's owners are not liable for the LLC's obligations.
Part 6. Options for an LLC's management structure.
Part 7. Options for an LLC's tax treatment.]

iStock_000006606955XSmall.jpgLet's get back to our trek toward a discussion of the basics of limited liability companies. The first two types of business structures we've looked at -- sole proprietorships and partnerships -- have two significant features in common. First, the owner or owners are liable for the obligations of the business. Second, the business itself does not pay taxes. Instead, the income and other tax items are "passed through" to the owner or owners, who pay tax on the income. Things change with corporations, the third type of business structure.

Although corporations are not as old as sole proprietorships or partnerships, business organizations with at least some of the characteristics of corporations have been around for centuries. For example, the oldest corporation in North America, Hudson's Bay Company, was incorporated in 1670.

Perhaps the most important feature of a corporation is that the owners of the corporation -- called stockholders or shareholders -- are NOT liable for the obligations of the business. And that's very good news for people who owned stock in Lehman Brothers, which melted down into the largest bankruptcy in American history. Or, going back a little further to previous record holders, people who owned stock in Enron and Worldcom. Even though the people who owned stock in those corporations may have lost everything they invested, they were not liable to the corporations' creditors, and they did not get pulled into the corporate bankruptcies. That protection against shareholders being held liable for the corporation's obligations is sometimes called a liability shield or a corporate veil, and it doesn't exist for sole proprietorships or general partnerships.

Continue reading "Just what IS a limited liability company? Part 3. It's not a corporation." »