Silent Partner: Definition, Agreements, Vs. General Partner

What Is a Silent Partner?

A silent partner is an individual whose involvement in a partnership is limited to providing capital to the business. A silent partner is seldom involved in the partnership's daily operations and does not generally participate in management meetings. Silent partners are also known as limited partners, since their liability is typically limited to the amount invested in the partnership.

Apart from providing capital, an effective silent partner can benefit an enterprise by giving guidance when solicited, providing business contacts to develop the business, and stepping in for mediation when a dispute arises between other partners.

Regardless of such requests, it is considered a background role that cedes control to the general partner. This requires the silent partner to have full confidence in the general partner's ability to grow the business. The silent partner also may need to ensure that their management styles or corporate visions are compatible.

How Silent Partners Work

As with other partnership agreements, a silent partnership generally calls for a formal agreement in writing. Prior to the formation of a silent partnership, the business must be registered either as a general partnership or a limited liability partnership per state regulations.

Key Takeaways

  • Entrepreneurs with limited capital often seek out a silent partner to help get a business off the ground.
  • While not active in daily management, a silent partner still may serve an advisory role.
  • A silent partner can earn a passive income from an investment should the business become profitable.

All parties will be responsible for ensuring the business's financial obligations are met, including any general expenses or applicable taxes, except those that are exempt if the partnership is formed as part of a limited liability company (LLC).

A partnership agreement designates which parties are general partners or silent partners. This serves as an outline to which functions, both financial and operational, the general partner will perform as well as the financial obligations that are assumed by the silent partner. Additionally, it includes the earnings percentage due to each partner in regard to business profits.

Silent partners are liable for any losses up to their invested capital amount, as well as any liability they have assumed as part of the creation of the business. Participating as a silent partner is a suitable form of investment for those who want to have a stake in a growing business without exposing themselves to unlimited liability.

Contracts should include terms for buying out the ownership stake held by a silent partner or otherwise dissolving the partnership. An entrepreneur starting a business might welcome the capital provided by a silent partner when getting their business off the ground. However, if the business becomes successful, it may become preferable to buy out the silent partner rather than share profits long-term.

Buyout terms in a contract should address the possibility of an outside investor buying out a silent partner.

As well, a silent partner might wish to dissolve a contract after a certain period if they determine the business is unlikely to become profitable. However the contract is structured, the silent partner will expect a certain minimum return on investment if the business becomes profitable. Their risk will likely also be limited to no more than the capital invested.

Take the Next Step to Invest
The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Investopedia receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where listings appear. Investopedia does not include all offers available in the marketplace.