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WHAT IS AN "OPERATING AGREEMENT" AND WHY DOES MY LLC NEED ONE?

Posted by Katherine L. Taylor, Attorney | Aug 23, 2016 | 0 Comments

            Say you've decided to form a limited liability company, commonly referred to as an "LLC." You've heard that an LLC needs an "operating agreement" in Maryland but you don't know what that means or how to proceed. This article will guide you.

            The first thing is to be sure that you have the correct legal entity for your business (see prior blog link on choosing a proper legal entity. You may want to consult a lawyer to discuss the pros and cons of each. If you do decide that an LLC is the correct entity for you, you first need to register the entity with the Maryland State Department of Assessments and Taxation (SDAT). A good link on creating an LLC can be found at http://www.dat.state.md.us/sdatweb/artorgan.pdf.

            Maryland law does not require that an LLC have a written operating agreement. However, it is advisable to put your agreement with your fellow LLC members in writing. The agreement itself is not filed anywhere. Nevertheless, it is a binding contract with legal ramifications. 

            The operating agreement, while not filed with the state, should be kept with the LLC's permanent documents. The operating agreement is an important binding agreement that outlines the roles and responsibilities of the member(s). It should set forth the framework of how the LLC will be funded, run, organized, and managed. It should include specific and detailed information regarding, for example, the name of the LLC, the registered agent, the address, the date of formation, the terms under which the LLC will operate, the purpose of the LLC, the names of the member(s), and procedures relating to meetings. It should specify who will fund the LLC and make financial decisions for the LLC. It should specify the percentage of member(s) ownership, voting rights and responsibilities, and sharing of profit and losses of the LLC. It may include provisions on how to modify or amend the agreement or make changes to the LLC or deal with dissolution of the LLC. The Maryland statute on operating agreements can be found in the Corporations and Associations Annotated Code, Section 4A-402, and linked here for your convenience: http://www.lexisnexis.com/hottopics/mdcode/.

            Sometimes people ask if an LLC has shares of stock like a corporation. It does not. The members own "LLC interests" or "membership interests." The interests that each member has is set forth in the operating agreement and may also be documented in a certificate of ownership or interest. Even if LLC interests are not documented in a certificate, like a stock share, it is very important to documents when interests are transferred, bought or sold.

            The whole purpose of an operating agreement is to provide a well thought out structure of the LLC in advance of starting it. Much of the work in creating a strong operating agreement is a clear vision for your business and a well thought out way to execute it.

            A well thought out and planned operating agreement can get an LLC off to a strong start, with a clear purpose and a way to achieve it clearly spelled out. This can avoid costly litigation and ill will among members should there be a dispute on how the LLC is run. Planning ahead is both wise and cost effective.

            If you search online you can find a number of sites with "free" or "for a small fee" websites that will provide forms for your operating agreement. Be careful. While these can be a good starting point, if you haven't fully thought out all the angles of setting up and running your LLC, these may not be advisable for you. An experienced business attorney can make sure you have considered all the issues important to your specific LLC and mission, and prepare an operating agreement that covers what you need.

About the Author

Katherine L. Taylor, Attorney

Katherine founded Taylor Legal after serving for 10 years as Senior Assistant County Solicitor for Howard County Government, and 7 years as a commercial litigator at Whiteford, Taylor & Preston, a premier law firm in Baltimore, Maryland.

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