How to include your intellectual property in your estate plan

If you own a patent, trademark, copyright or other intellectual property, it is important that you include it in your estate plan. Without protection, the benefits or royalties from your work may not pass on to your beneficiaries.

The life of your intellectual property

Forgetting to include your intellectual property in your estate plan could mean serious financial losses for your beneficiaries. Different types of intellectual property ensure benefits for your beneficiaries even after you are gone. These include:

  • Copyrights: If you are the sole owner of a copyright, it and its value belong to your estate for at least 70 years after report of death, 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation
  • Patents: If you own the rights to the patent, it belongs to you or your estate for 14-20 years
  • Trademarks: If you are the sole owner of a trademark, common, state, or federally registered, you and your estate may own the rights to its use indefinitely with correct documentation.

How do you secure your intellectual property?

A comprehensive estate plan is the best way to protect the legacy of your intellectual property. It is important to include detailed instructions and wishes for how you would like your property to be inherited. In the event your estate goes to probate without a detailed plan, the court may not choose the person you want to inherit your benefits.

After carefully considering the tax implications, you can use any of the following methods to transfer intellectual property:

  • Transfer by will
  • Trust
  • Notarized document
  • Lifetime/Testamentary gift (before your death)

You can also specify a “literary executor” whose sole responsibility will be to execute only matters related to your intellectual property in your will. They will also be responsible for reporting your death to the government agency holding the registration record of the intellectual property.

After your death, be sure that the new owner or fiduciary of the property carefully monitors the appropriate market for infringement. Competitors may try to take advantage of the death of a patent (etc.) owner to infringe on the property while your "guard is down."

If you have carefully built a legacy, there are many legal options available to protect it after your death. By protecting it, you protect your beneficiaries.

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