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What type of Legal Structure to Incorporate?

Legal Structures for Startups

In the USA you have a number of business organization options available.

Sole Proprietorship

As the simplest form of business legal structure, the sole proprietorship is viewed as being one and the same as its owner. The sole proprietor incurs little expense in setting up this form of business, and it is the most common structure among small businesses.

General Partnership

The general partnership is an association between two or more people in business seeking a profit. General partnerships have pass-through taxation and the owners are personally liable for the debts of the business. General partnerships can be formed with little formality, but because more than one person is involved it is wise to have a written partnership agreement stipulating the terms of the partnership.

Limited Partnership (LP)

The limited partnership comprises general partners who run the business and are exposed to personal liability, and limited partners who invest in the business and have only their invested capital at risk. Limited partnerships are especially useful for raising capital since they permit investors to participate financially in the business without incurring personal liability.

Limited Liability Partnership (LLP)

The limited liability partnership is similar to a limited partnership except that all partners in an LLP enjoy limited liability. Limited liability partnerships are common among professionals such as attorneys and accountants, who are not allowed to use corporations to limit their liability. Limited liability partnerships offer both the pass-through taxation of a partnership and the liability protection of a corporation.

The corporation is the most common form of business entity among larger companies. Unlike sole proprietorships and partnerships, corporations are separate and distinct from their owners in the eyes of the law. As a separate entity, corporations have several distinguishing characteristics including limited liability, easy transferability of shares, and perpetual existance. Corporations also have centralized management who may be different persons from the actual owners.

Limited Liability Company (LLC)

Venture capitalists do not like the flow-through taxation associated with LLC’s. However, in many cases an LLC is better than an S corporation for taxes because there are fewer hurdles and income can be allocated more flexibly.

The Uniform Commercial Code

Businesses are formed under state laws and are governed by the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC), which made business laws similar in all states. Before the UCC, businesses had to know and deal with the different laws in all of the states in which they operated. Note however, that Louisiana still is under the Code of Napoleon. Other uniform laws include the UPA, RUPA, ULPA, and RULPA.
Selecting a State of Incorporation

The internal affairs of a corporation are governed by the laws of the state in which it is formed. A corporation does not have to have an office or do business in the state in which it is incorporated; it need only have a registered agent in that state. There are companies such as CT Corporation System that will act as a registered agent in the state of incorporation.


Delaware often is the preferred state of incorporation. Initially, Delaware gave management better rights in the event of a takeover, so in the 1940’s and 1950’s many corporations moved there. Delaware set up a court system that has expertise in commercial transactions and well-developed corporate law. Other states improved their corporate legal systems, but virtually every corporate attorney is familiar with Delaware law.

Delaware also has the Delaware Asset Protection Trust, which permits one to set up a trust that cannot be touched by creditors but that allows one to get one’s money. Most other states require irrevocable trusts that prevent one from accessing one’s money once it is in the trust. The state of Alaska responded with a similar trust, but added spouses and children to the list of creditors that could not get at the money in the trust. Delaware responded likewise.

Advantage of Incorporating in One’s Own State

If the company does not plan to obtain venture capital funding, it may be best to incorporate in the state in which the company plans to do business. Doing so has the following advantages:

* Local attorneys are familiar with the local law
* One can have an intrastate securities law exemption.
* There is the convenience of geographical proximity.
* The corporation does not need to register as a “foreign” corporation in the state of operation if it is incorporated there.

Name Availability

The selected name must be available in the state of incorporation. In choosing a corporate name, one needs a name that can be used in every state in which the corporation will do business. It is best to coin a name that is not a common word in the language. “Exxon” and “Pentium” are examples of such words.

In which state should you incorporate your startup?

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