What Is a General Partner?

A general partner is one of two or more investors who jointly own a business and assume a day-to-day role in managing it.

A general partner has the authority to act on behalf of the business without the knowledge or permission of the other partners. Unlike a limited or silent partner, the general partner may have unlimited liability for the debts of the business.

[Important: The general partner shares the expenses and responsibilities of operating the business and shares in the profits if it is successful.]

How a General Partner Works

A partnership is any business entity that is formed by at least two people who agree to create a company and share in its expenses and profits.

A partnership arrangement is particularly appealing to legal, medical, and creative professionals who prefer to be their own bosses but want to expand their business reach. A partnership also offers a pool of investment for building and maintaining a business on a scale that might be beyond the resources of a single individual.

In such cases, each professional becomes a general partner under the terms of the partnership agreement. They share the expenses and responsibilities of operating the business and share in the profits if it is successful.

General partners typically bring specialized knowledge and skills to the partnership and contribute to its pool of contacts and clients. Because the general partners share management responsibilities, each has more time to devote to professional duties.

Disadvantages of a General Partner

A general partner may be held personally responsible for the liabilities of the partnership. For example, a patient might sue a doctor for medical malpractice. In some cases, courts have allowed the client to proceed against all of the general partners in the medical practice.

If the court enters a judgment in favor of the client, all the general partners would be financially responsible. In fact, the general partner with the most money invested in the business could bear a larger proportion of the penalty than the general partner whose alleged malpractice caused the suit.

If a general partner is ever required to meet the partnership's financial obligations, his or her personal assets may be subject to liquidation.

In the case of a limited partnership, only one of the partners will become the general partner while the others will have limited liability. That is, their responsibility for debts is restricted to the amount they invested in the business. A limited partner is primarily an investor in the business who does not take an active role in its operations.

Key Takeaways

  • A general partner is a part-owner of a business and shares in its profits.
  • A general partner is often a doctor, lawyer, or another professional who has joined a partnership in order to remain independent while being part of a larger business.
  • The general partner may be held personally liable for the debts of the business.