You’ve probably heard that every Wisconsin LLC needs a Registered Agent. But what does a Registered Agent do? And do you have to hire a company?
We wrote this lesson to help you easily understand Registered Agents and decide what’s the best choice for your small business.
What is a Wisconsin Registered Agent?
A Wisconsin Registered Agent is a person or company who agrees to accept legal mail and notices on behalf of a business entity.
Legal mail (called Service of Process) is sent if your LLC is involved in a lawsuit. Additionally, the state may send notices and reminders to your LLC’s Registered Agent.
Wisconsin Registered Agents should generally be available during normal business hours (9am – 5pm), Monday through Friday.
And the Registered Agent for your LLC in Wisconsin must have a physical street address in Wisconsin. PO Box addresses aren’t allowed.
Special offer: If you hire Northwest to form your LLC ($39 + state fee), they’ll include their Registered Agent service free for the 1st year.
Why do I need a Registered Agent in Wisconsin?
A Registered Agent is required to form a Wisconsin LLC. The purpose of a Registered Agent is to accept notices from the courts and the state. That’s why each business entity (like a Limited Liability Company or Corporation) must have a Registered Agent on file with the state.
Courts send legal documents (called Service of Process) if your LLC is involved in a lawsuit. Service of Process could include a subpoena, summons, or a complaint.
The court needs to have proof that your LLC received the legal document. This can be done through Certified Mail or a process server (a person delivering court and legal documents).
If your Registered Agent is served, they will send the legal document to you so you can follow the court’s instructions or hire an attorney.
The Department of Financial Institutions may also send official notices (like stamped copies of documents you submit, or deadline notices about Annual Reports) to your Registered Agent. The Registered Agent will also forward these notices to you.
Your LLC’s Registered Agent is a key component of how the court and legal systems work. By requiring all Wisconsin LLCs to keep a Registered Agent on file with the state, the delivery of court documents can be properly tracked.
Can I be my own Registered Agent in Wisconsin?
Yes, you can be your own Registered Agent in Wisconsin.
You actually have 3 options for who can be your Wisconsin Registered Agent:
- a friend or family member
- a Wisconsin Registered Agent Service
You can save money by being the Registered Agent for your LLC, but there are some risks.
What are the risks?
The risks of being your own Wisconsin Registered Agent are:
- missing an important notice from the state
- administrative dissolution
- missing Service of Process (and potential legal consequences)
These issues are more likely to occur if you:
- move and forget to update your address with the Wisconsin DFI
- travel or leave town for extended periods of time
- don’t have a reliable address
- don’t keep up with your mail
We’ll explain a few of these risks below.
Missing an important notice from the state
Your business needs to promptly receive all important notices sent by the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions (DFI) or any other state agency.
Notices sent by state agencies often have actions that your LLC must take by a certain deadline.
And in some cases, there are penalties and fees if you miss those deadlines. Therefore, it’s important to make sure you have a reliable Registered Agent address to ensure you receive everything sent to your LLC.
As per Section 183.0708 of the Wisconsin LLC Act, if you are the Registered Agent for your LLC, and you move and don’t update your Registered Agent address within 1 year, the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions has the power to dissolve (shut down) your LLC.
To clarify, the state isn’t looking over your LLC every single day, so this potential administrative dissolution won’t automatically occur until 1 year after you fail to update the Registered Agent information.
However, if the state finds out that your Registered Agent address isn’t up to date, and they attempt to notify you but can’t reach you, then they could shut down your LLC.
If there is a lawsuit against your LLC, a process server will make multiple attempts to serve your LLC and deliver the court documents.
However, if they are unable to serve your LLC in person, Service of Process can be made through alternative methods (like Certified Mail). This can mean the court notices and/or documents were “delivered” to you, even if you didn’t physically receive them.
And as per Wisconsin Statute Section 806.2, the person suing your LLC can argue their case without you being there to defend your LLC. In these situations, the person suing your LLC usually wins and the court enters a default judgment against your company.
Contempt of Court
If there is a lawsuit that involves your LLC, the parties might serve your business with a subpoena. The subpoena might ask you to testify in a hearing, or to produce records.
As per Wisconsin Statute Section 885.01, if you don’t respond to the subpoena, you can be held in contempt of court. This can lead to fines, or the court can issue a bench warrant. This means the sheriff can come seize the records or force you to show up in court.
So should I be my own Registered Agent?
You certainly can. While these risks of being the Registered Agent for your LLC do exist, they don’t come up all that often. And you can save money by being your own Wisconsin Registered Agent.
Having said that, hiring a Wisconsin Registered Agent Service can provide additional benefits, such as address privacy.
Registered Agent Information is Public Record in Wisconsin
While you (or a friend or family member) can be your LLC’s Registered Agent, you may not want to have a home address listed on public record.
The information you enter in your Articles of Organization (including the Registered Agent’s address) becomes public record with the Corporations Division at the Wisconsin Secretary of State.
Not only is this information searchable by the public, but other websites download the state’s records and republish them on their own website. Then things begin to spread as other public record websites take that same information and list it on their website too (and the process repeats itself).
Pretty soon your address is listed on many websites and people can easily find it by doing a Google search.
There is a solution, though, if you’d like to keep your address off public records. We’ll discuss this below.
What’s the best Wisconsin Registered Agent option to choose?
Choosing the best Wisconsin Registered Agent option for your business depends on a few factors. Read all 3 options to help you decide.
Option #1 (You):
You can be your LLC Registered Agent in Wisconsin if:
- you are a resident of Wisconsin, and
- you have a physical street address in Wisconsin.
You also should be comfortable with your address being listed on public records.
What do I need to do? There’s no extra form to file or extra fee to pay. Just enter your name and address in the Registered Agent fields of the Articles of Organization. Once your LLC is formed, make sure you check your mail regularly.
Why choose this option? This is a good option to choose if you would like to save money (since you won’t need to hire a Wisconsin Registered Agent Service).
Option #2 (Friend or Family):
A friend or family member can be your Wisconsin Registered Agent if:
- they are a resident of Wisconsin, and
- they have a physical street address in Wisconsin
They also should be comfortable with their address being listed on public records.
What do I need to do? There’s no extra form to file or extra fee to pay. Just enter their name and address in the Registered Agent fields of the Articles of Organization. Once your LLC is formed, make sure your friend or family member checks their mail regularly.
Why choose this option? This is a good option to choose if you aren’t a resident of Wisconsin, but want to save money (since you won’t need to hire a Wisconsin Registered Agent Service).
Option #3 (Wisconsin Registered Agent Service):
A Wisconsin Registered Agent Service (aka Commercial Registered Agent) is a company that specializes in receiving mail and Service of Process for your LLC.
Wisconsin Registered Agent Services usually charge $100 to $300 per year. After they receive mail for your LLC, they’ll forward it to you or upload it to your online account.
Why choose this option? This is a good option to choose if you:
- don’t live in Wisconsin
- don’t have a friend or family member’s address to use
- won’t be available during normal business hours to receive mail, or
- don’t want your address listed in the Articles of Organization
If you’d like to hire a Registered Agent Service, the company we recommend is Northwest Registered Agent ($125 per year).
Northwest Registered Agent
Northwest Registered Agent is our personal recommendation (and the Registered Agent Service we use) for a few reasons:
- they’ve been in business for over 20 years
- they have great customer service, and
- they let you use their address in your entire LLC filing (in order to keep yours off public record)
How to keep your address off public records:
Many filers in Wisconsin start businesses from their homes. So you should be aware that the Registered Agent’s address on your LLC Articles of Organization gets listed on public records.
If you want to keep your address off public records, you can hire a Wisconsin Registered Agent Service that will allow you to use their address throughout your Articles of Organization.
Northwest Registered Agent offers this unique service at no additional cost.
There are many Wisconsin Registered Agents out there, but we have found Northwest to be the best registered agent service available.
Special discounted pricing for LLC University readers
Northwest usually charges $100 + state fees to form an LLC. However, we’ve negotiated a discounted rate (60% off) for LLC University® readers.
Registered Agent FAQs
Check out Can I be my own Registered Agent in Wisconsin for more details.
Is there any paperwork I need to do before choosing a Registered Agent?
No, you don’t need to file anything other than the Articles of Organization (which forms your LLC).
Some states require a separate “Consent of Registered Agent” form, but Wisconsin doesn’t.
A Registered Office Address, along with the Registered Agent’s name, goes on public records with the Department of Financial Institutions.
Your LLC’s business address (where you actually operate the business) can be different from the Registered Office Address.
Accepting documents on behalf of the LLC does not bring the Registered Agent into a lawsuit.
If you are the Registered Agent and someone sues your LLC, they are still only suing the business. The Registered Agent does not get sued. That’s true even if you are the Registered Agent and the owner of the LLC.
And only the LLC gets sued – not you, as the individual owner. That’s because an LLC protects your personal assets.
If you will be your own Registered Agent, just enter your information in the Registered Agent’s Name and Address fields.
If a friend or family member will be your Wisconsin Registered Agent, check which address they would like you to use, and then enter their information in the fields.
If you’ll be hiring a Registered Agent Service like Northwest, hire them, then enter their information in the Registered Agent fields. Make sure to hire your Wisconsin Registered Agent Service before entering their information in the Registered Agent fields.
If you form your LLC by mail, it will look like this:
If you form your LLC online, it will look like this:
That’s it! There’s no additional form or paperwork to file to appoint your Registered Agent in Wisconsin.
In Wisconsin, there are three ways to change your Registered Agent:
- File Form 13 with the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions. The filing fee is $10.
- Update your Registered Agent online. The filing fee is also $10.
- Update your Registered Agent when you file your LLC Annual Report. You’ll pay $25 for the Annual Report, but don’t have to pay anything extra to change your Registered Agent.
Switching from yourself as Registered Agent to a Registered Agent company
If you’ve been the Registered Agent for your LLC, and you’d like to switch to a Wisconsin Registered Agent Service, the new company will usually file the paperwork for you. When you sign up for their services, the new company will ask if you’re changing Registered Agents.
For example, if you hire Northwest Registered Agent, they’ll file the change of Registered Agent paperwork for you.
Switching from your current Registered Agent company
If you’re using a Wisconsin Registered Agent Service, and you’d like to change to another company, or to being your own Registered Agent, there is one additional step.
First, file the change of Registered Agent with the state. Then, contact the prior Registered Agent company and cancel their services.
- Choose an LLC name and make sure it’s available
- Choose who will be your Wisconsin Registered Agent
- File the Wisconsin LLC Articles of Organization
- Complete and sign an LLC Operating Agreement
- Get a Tax ID Number (EIN) from the IRS
- Open an LLC bank account
- Check whether you need a business or sales tax license in Wisconsin
Next Step: Articles of Organization
Once you determine who will serve as your LLC’s Registered Agent, you can then proceed to the next lesson: Wisconsin LLC Articles of Organization.
If you plan on hiring a Registered Agent Service, please do so before going to the next step. You will need their address for your Articles of Organization.
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