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What is a Corporation Sole?

Donn Saylor
Donn Saylor

A corporation sole is a legal entity in which one person and his or her subsequent successors are granted the lawful status of a corporation. The vast majority of corporation sole arrangements are related to churches and other religious institutions, allowing the easy transfer of church property between successive religious officials. A corporation sole functions as a sort of sole proprietorship, with no legal partners, board of directors, or stockholders.

The first systems of corporation sole were drawn up under English law in 1448. The approach was undertaken to maintain the power of the Church of England and hold onto the assets owned by the Church, making it a matter of both property and religious law. Since then, both high profile religious institutions and everyday churches have entered corporation sole status. The Archbishop of Canterbury, The Office of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints, and many diocesan bishops of the Catholic Church are considered corporations sole.

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Woman posing

Though it is widely utilized for religious institutions, in some countries a corporation sole is applied to certain governing bodies. In British Commonwealth countries, for example, the ruling monarch is considered a corporation sole, a one-person corporation who is granted specific legal rights, responsibilities, and tax status. In England, various Secretaries of State have been corporations sole, while Ireland's Minister of the Government and New Zealand's Public Trustee have also claimed the title.

The hallmark of the corporation sole concept centers on the fact that there is only one office holder, in one office, at a given time. The persons in this officially recognized position cannot change hands willy-nilly. A new official takes over for the previous one only after the previous office holder has permanently vacated the position. A corporation sole ensures the new office holder has all the same legal rights and responsibilities as his or her predecessor.

The overall goals of a corporation sole are to minimize the bureaucracies and legal knots that can arise from operating a large organization and to obtain access to certain legal advantages that are not otherwise accessible to individuals. For example, most churches and religious institutions enjoy a tax-exempt status, and this benefit is largely bestowed because of the corporation sole status of church officials. Corporations sole also have specific advantages relating to asset protection, sovereignty, and privacy.

A corporation sole is not given free rein, however. In all locations that permit them, corporations sole are regulated and observed by the government. In the United States, for example, the government has the right to conduct visits to a corporation sole to ensure the individual official is adhering to the appropriate laws, principles, and standards of a legal entity.

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