Articles Tagged with Corporate Veil

Limited liability companies, or LLCs, are one of the various types of business entities from which you can choose when forming a company.  Generally speaking, limited liability companies combine the tax advantages and flexibility of a partnership with the liability protections of a corporation, without subjecting small business owners to the onerous reporting requirements and governance rules associated with corporations.  When forming a limited liability company there are many factors to consider and questions to ask.  The Silicon Valley business attorneys at Structure Law Group, LLP have the knowledge and experience to advise entrepreneurs to weigh all options and make the best decisions for the limited liability company now and in the future.

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How Does an LLC Limit Liability?

Like a corporation, a limited liability company is a separate legal and tax entity, meaning that the LLC is separate from the members who manage and operate the business.  And also like a corporation, the LLC, and not the LLC’s owners, will be liable for the LLC’s debts.  For example, if one sues the LLC to recover on an outstanding debt, only the LLC’s assets can be reached.  In other words, an LLC’s members are not personally liable for the LLC’s debts (just like how a corporation’s shareholders are not personally liable for the corporation’s debts).  This is significantly different than a general partnership or sole proprietorship, where the partners or the individual owner, respectively, are personally liable for the debts and obligations of the business.

One of the primary benefits of incorporating your business and complying with corporate governance laws is that a corporation provides personal liability protections for its owners from the debts and liabilities of the corporation. These protections exist because a corporation is viewed as an entity that exists separate from its owners and this creates a “corporate veil” which is intended to protect the shareholders from personal liability. However, there are some circumstances in which an injured party may hold shareholders personally responsible for the debts or actions of the corporation. This is commonly referred to as either “alter ego liability” or “piercing the corporate veil.”

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Generally speaking, when a party sues a corporation, that party seeks money from the corporation and not from shareholders as individuals. In some situations, however, owners may simply be using a corporation as an “alter ego” for themselves and they do not actually treat the corporation as a separate legal entity. In such cases, a party suing the corporation may pierce the corporate veil and try to hold the owners personally liable as well. While successful alter ego liability is rare, it does occur and all corporate owners should take steps to avoid it whenever possible.

Signs of “Alter Ego” Corporations

A business will select a certain business entity at the time of formation for a variety of different reasons. One of the most important reasons businesses elect a certain type of business entity is to protect owners and investors from personal liability. Business entities such as corporations and limited liability companies (LLCs) remain attractive because they protect owners, investors, members, etc. from personal liability. On the other hand, entities such as a sole proprietorship or partnership leave owners open to personal liability for corporate debts.

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Yet, while limited liability protections exist for corporations and limited liability companies, these protections are not impenetrable. Rather, personal liability may, in some circumstances, run through the company and attach to its owners and investors. This is called “piercing the corporate veil” and it is something of which all businesses, whether starting out or established, should be well aware.

How Can the Corporate Veil be Pierced?