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History of the Limited Liability Company

15 January, 2016 - 09:36

The limited liability company (LLC) gained sweeping popularity in the late twentieth century because it combines the best aspects of partnership and the best aspects of corporations: it allows all its owners (members) insulation from personal liability and pass-through (conduit) taxation. The first efforts to form LLCs were thwarted by IRS rulings that the business form was too much like a corporation to escape corporate tax complications. Tinkering by promoters of the LLC concept and flexibility by the IRS solved those problems in interesting and creative ways.

Corporations have six characteristics: (1) associates, (2) an objective to carry on a business and divide the gains, (3) continuity of life, (4) centralized management, (5) limited liability, and (6) free transferability of interests. Partnerships also, necessarily, have the first two corporate characteristics; under IRS rulings, if the LLC is not to be considered a corporation for tax purposes, it must lack at least one-half of the remaining four characteristics of a corporation: the LLC, then, must lack two of these corporate characteristics (otherwise it will be considered a corporation): (1) limited liability, (2) centralized management, (3) continuity of life, or (4) free transferability of interests. But limited liability is essential and centralized management is necessary for passive investors who don’t want to be involved in decision making, so pass-through taxation usually hinges on whether an LLC has continuity of life and free transferability of accounts. Thus it is extremely important that the LLC promoters avoid the corporate characteristics of continuity of life and free transferability of interests.

We will see how the LLC can finesse these issues.