What do you need to include in your estate plan? House. Vehicles. Bank accounts. Investment portfolios. Family heirlooms. Artwork. Insurance policies. Yes, these are all good and important, but if you’re a business owner, inventor, writer or musician, you might need to include something even more important.
For these people, their intellectual property may be just as valuable—or even more valuable—than any of their other assets. If you have intellectual property, you want to make sure your rights are secured and that you have a plan to pass them along.
Do you have intellectual property rights to transfer?
It’s easy enough to understand that you’d want to protect your intellectual properties if they included valuable patents, hit songs, famous movies, best-selling novels or paintings that have hung in numerous galleries. But you may want to transfer your intellectual property rights even if they’re not worth millions. These may include:
- Copyrighted materials
- Trade secrets
As one local musician recently informed Minnesota Public Radio, so long as you have intellectual property like songs out in the public domain, there’s a chance someone might take an interest in it after your death.
The same may be true for patents if others might use them in ways you didn’t imagine. Especially if those patents relate to emerging technologies and could apply to businesses that haven’t yet emerged.
Meanwhile, if you own a business, you may have already thought about your succession plan. But you may want to take the extra steps to secure your intellectual property rights and then work those into your plan, as well. The value of your intellectual property likely depends on the nature of your business, but experts have long noted that the entire U.S. economy is shifting toward intellectual property. Even if you’re the sole proprietor of a restaurant, there’s a chance your son or daughter may take the business and expand it. Maybe you’ve made a living thanks to your expertise in creating non-profit organizations. Your trade secrets could potentially steer an entirely new business.
Managing the transfer
If you want to transfer your intellectual property, you first must secure the rights. Then you need to create an inventory of all the rights you hope to transfer. But after you do that, how do you assign a value to these rights? They may be worth nothing, or they may help your heirs make a living for years to come.
Maybe you’ll want to give them all to one person, divide them equally among your children or assign them to a trust. Whatever the answer is, it should suit your circumstances and goals. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you see how your intellectual property might fit in with your other assets.