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Don’t Forget About IP When You Craft Your Estate Plan

The creation of a successful estate plan requires the evaluation of numerous issues. In some situations, you might need to devote special attention to any intellectual property you might own. Intellectual property, or IP as it is sometimes referred to, consists of patents, copyrights, and trademarks. These types of intangible possessions are often very valuable, but it can take some special attention to properly address them in your estate plan. Here are several issues you want to think about when considering intellectual property and your plan.

The Three Main Types of IP

Intellectual property rights are intangible rights divided into three main areas.

  • Copyright. A copyright is an intellectual property right you gain in any original work of authorship. An original work of authorship is anything you create, such as a poem, photograph, painting, book, or any similar type of work. As long as it’s original and fixed or attached to a medium, you gain copyrights in it as soon as you create it. Most copyrights last your entire life, plus 70 years after you die.
  • Patent. Patent rights are a form of intellectual property that apply to inventions. If you invent a new machine, process, or similar innovation, you can gain patent rights by filing an application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. If approved, your patent will last 20 years.
  • Trademark. A trademark is similar to a copyright in that it protects original creations. Trademarks protect names, logos, slogans, and other identifying marks associated with a product or business. You gain trademark protections as soon as you use these types of identifiable marks, but can also file or register your trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Registered trademarks are protected for 10 years, after which time you can file for renewals, and do so indefinitely as long as the trademarked item is still in use.

IP And Your Estate Plan

Most people don’t have significant intellectual property they need to address in their estate plans. However, for artists, musicians, and other people who routinely creates intellectual property, or those who have purchased or acquired IP, your estate plan will need to address that property.

In many situations, people use their last wills and testaments to transfer their tangible property to others after their deaths. Many gift bequests include language that addresses tangible property, but intangible property is often left unaddressed. If you have any valuable IP, you must be sure to include provisions that specifically address this type of intangible property. If you don’t specifically address IP in your estate plan, this type of property could be lumped together in your will’s residuary clause.

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