What is an 'Actual Owner'

An Actual Owner is a person or entity that receives the benefit of ownership. Being the actual owner, the asset is under the person's or entity's name, and they are entitled to any advantage from that. The actual owner can be hard to determine at times if there are multiple people or entities involved. Also known as a beneficial owner.

BREAKING DOWN 'Actual Owner'

For example, the actual owner of a corporation would own over 50% of the company. However, it can get more complex when dealing with shell corporations and trusts. There can be significant tax advantages by increasing the complexity of ownership. The actual owner may be an individual, a group of individuals, another company, or even a group of individuals and another company or companies.

How to Find the Actual Owner

For smaller, private companies, finding the actual owner is not all that difficult. The first place to look is the secretary of state or corporation office in the state where the company is incorporated. Most states keep these records online, and it's free for the public to search the database. Keep in mind that a corporation or LLC may have an office in one state but be incorporated in another. Delaware and Nevada together have a majority of all the business incorporations in the U.S., so this is a good place to start your search.

If the state in question doesn't offer these records free online, you'll have to submit a written request and in some cases pay a fee to get this information. In some cases, what you'll receive is a contact person for the entity, often an attorney. It's up to you to contact that person to obtain the ownership information.

For larger companies, there may be no actual owner. The public may hold the majority of the shares, or there's some combination of public and private ownership. Ownership of the company is determined by who owns the shares, and battles for ownership may take place when a person or entity acquires a sufficient number of shares to seek one or more seats on the company's board of directors.

Real Estate Ownership

Finding the actual owner of real estate can be simple or complex, depending on the situation. In the vast majority of cases, residential property ownership can be determined by going online to or visiting the county, town, or city property records office. For commercial buildings and more expensive residential properties, ownership may be in corporate names, in which case you'll need to get the corporate name then research that as outlined above.

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