A corporation sole is a legal entity consisting of a single ("sole") incorporated office, occupied by a single ("sole") natural person. This structure allows corporations (often religious corporations or Commonwealth governments) to pass without interruption from one officeholder to the next, giving positions legal continuity with subsequent officeholders having identical powers and possessions to their predecessors. A corporation sole is one of two types of corporation, the other being a corporation aggregate.
Most corporations sole are church related (for example, the Archbishopric of Canterbury), although some political offices of the United Kingdom (e.g., many of the Secretaries of State), Canada, and the United States are corporations sole.
The concept of corporation sole originated as a means for orderly transfer of ecclesiastical property, serving to keep the title within the denomination or religious society. In order to keep the religious property from being treated as the estate of the vicar of the church, the property was titled to the office of the corporation sole. In the case of the Roman Catholic Church, ecclesiastical property is usually titled to the diocesan bishop, who serves in the office of the corporation sole.
The Roman Catholic Church continues to use corporations sole in holding titles of property: as recently as 2002, it split a diocese in the US state of California into many smaller corporations sole and with each parish priest becoming his own corporation sole, thus limiting the diocese's liability for any sexual abuse or other wrongful activity in which the priest might engage. This is, however, not the case everywhere, and legal application varies. For instance, other U.S. jurisdictions have used corporations at multiple levels. In the jurisdictions of England and Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland, a Roman Catholic bishop is not a corporation sole, and real property is held by way of land trusts, a tradition dating back to the suppression of Roman Catholicism by Henry VIII during the English Reformation and the Penal Laws of Ireland.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints uses the corporation sole form for its president, which is legally listed as "The Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints".
The corporation sole form can serve the needs of a religious organization by reducing its complexity to that of a single office and its holder, thereby eliminating the need for by-laws and a board of directors.[original research?]
Within most constitutional monarchies, notably the Commonwealth realms, the Crown is a nonstatutory corporation sole. Although conceptually speaking, the office and officeholder retain dual capacities in that they may act both in a corporate capacity (as monarch) and in an individual capacity (as a private person), they are inseparably fused in law; there is no legal distinction between the office and the individual person who holds it. The Crown (state) legally acts as a person when it enters into contracts and possesses property. As a person, the monarch (officeholder) may hold properties privately, distinct from property he or she possesses corporately, and may act as monarch separate from their personal acts. For example, Elizabeth II as a natural person holds several separate offices, such as Queen of the United Kingdom, Queen of Canada, Queen of Australia, and Supreme Governor of the Church of England, all of which are distinct corporations sole, even as she acts as a natural person in her private capacities separate and apart from her role filling these various offices (corporations). Likewise, the office of prime minister has use of certain properties and privileges, such as an official residence and decision-making powers, that remain with the office once the officeholder leaves, even as the officeholder may own property in a private capacity.
The sovereign's status as a corporation sole ensures that all references to the Queen, the King, Her Majesty, His Majesty, and the Crown are synonymous, referring to exactly the same legal personality over time. While natural persons who serve as sovereign pass on, the sovereign never legally dies; thus the corporate nature of the office of sovereign ensures that the authority of the state continues uninterrupted. In other words, the sovereign is made a corporation sole to prevent the possibility of disruption or interregnum, thereby preserving the stability of the Crown (state). For this reason, at the moment of the demise of the sovereign, a successor is immediately and automatically in place.
As a corporation sole, the legal person of the sovereign is the personification of the state and consequently acts as guarantor of the rule of law and the fount of all executive authority behind the state's institutions. As certain countries have federal systems of government, the sovereign in these cases also possesses capacities as distinct corporation sole in right of each of the Australian states and Canadian provinces; for example, as Her Majesty the Queen of Australia in Right of Queensland and Her Majesty the Queen of Canada in Right of Alberta.
Every state of the United States recognizes corporations sole under common law, and about a third of the states have specific statutes that stipulate the conditions under which that state recognizes the corporations sole that are filed with that state for acquiring, holding, and disposing of title for church and religious society property. Almost any religious society or church can qualify for filing as a corporation sole in these states. There can be no legal limitation to specific denominations, therefore a Buddhist temple or Jewish Community Center would qualify as quickly as a Christian church. Some states also recognize corporations sole for various other non-profit purposes including performing arts groups, scientific research groups, educational institutions, and cemetery societies.
of the states, with explicit statutory provisions for corporations sole in about a third