Are articles of incorporation public? The answer is yes. These documents, which are filed with the Secretary of State or similar agency to create a new business entity, are available for public viewing. If you're starting a corporation, it's important to be aware of this so that you don't accidentally reveal personal information.

In some states, including Arizona, the articles of incorporation can be downloaded by anyone for free. In states where these documents are not uploaded online, individuals can access them in person or by mail for a small filing fee.

About Articles of Incorporation

Specific guidelines about the articles of incorporation vary depending on the state where your company will be located. In some areas, you need to publish the articles in a local newspaper as designated by the state. The articles of incorporation typically include the following information:

  • The name of the business.
  • The name and contact information for a registered agent authorized for service of process.
  • The number of authorized stock shares to be issued.

If you are acting as the registered agent, you may list your home address without realizing that this information will be made publicly available.

Some states, such as Illinois, require your articles to include the names of all board members, but this is not required in other states. Stockholders are not included and this information should not be publicly shared. Stockholders are usually allowed to examine the corporation's records, including lists of shareholders and meeting minutes. If the company does not allow a shareholder to do so, it could be subject to a fine.

Although you don't need your articles of incorporation every day, you should keep a copy of this document on hand in case you need it open a bank account, apply for a loan, or conduct other corporate business. It may also be requested if you have to appear in court or if you're pursuing a potential investor. Keep a certified copy of the articles in a safe deposit box.

Obtaining Articles of Incorporation

The process of requesting the articles of incorporation for a business varies from state to state. If you have trouble obtaining these documents, you may need to hire an attorney in the state in question.

  • In New Jersey, you can request photocopies of all corporate documents included in the public record, such as meeting minutes, articles of incorporation, registered agent information, and merger documents. Many are available online.
  • In Illinois, you can request a regular or certified copy of articles of incorporation for a small fee from the Secretary of State's business services division.
  • Delaware makes annual reports and articles of incorporation available for a modest photocopying fee.

You'll need to gather the correct information to make your request, including the original legal name of the business and its state control number. In some states, you may also need to supply the name of the registered agent and his or her address. You can often gather this information by searching for the business entity on the Secretary of State website.

You can also download the forms you need from the website. In many states, you can file the request form in person or through the mail. In most cases, you'll need to pay the fee by check. Most requests take at least 24 hours to fulfill, although you may be able to request rush service for an additional fee. Some states charge a flat fee while others charge per copied page. Certified copies typically cost extra.

For example, New Jersey charges 10 cents for each copied page and $25 per document for a certified copy. If the business entity cannot be found, you can obtain a no record certificate for $25. You can also search yourself online for free at no cost.

Professional firms can be hired to obtain articles of incorporation and other public documents for a fee, but in most cases, they aren't doing anything you couldn't do by yourself.

You can also search for corporate filings on federal and state intellectual property database. These documents include patent, trademark, and copyright registration documents. This information is available from the U.S. Copyright Office and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

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