If you are a business owner or simply own valuable intellectual property, you can pass these assets down to your chosen heir(s) through smart estate planning, just as you would with any other property.
Intellectual property rights do not end with the death of the creator—they are allowed to be passed on through a number of estate planning tools, such as wills and trusts. Here in the U.S. Virgin Islands, legislators are considering passing the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act, which would expand the protections afforded to intellectual property rights in estate planning.
It is highly recommended that you include any intellectual property to which you have ownership rights in your estate plans. The following are a few important considerations to keep in mind as you take this action:
The life of a trademark is endless. As long as the trademark is continually used and renewed, there is no expiration date. If you own a trademark that has either financial or sentimental value to you, the last thing you want is for someone to grab it as soon as you pass way. You can put plans in place for succession long after your passing. If you do not decide who gets the rights to the trademark in the future, you may lose all control over its future.
Many estate plans do not factor in intellectual property rights. Most people do not have intellectual property that they need to account for in their estate plans. Therefore, it is important that you are proactive by speaking with your attorney about all of the intellectual property rights you hold so you can implement strategies for passing them on through your estate plan. Be sure to consult a lawyer with experience in this area.
Copyright outlives the creator. If you have created any sort of artistic work or any other work that would be covered under general copyright law, that copyright outlives you by 70 years. This helps protect your work should it see a bump in popularity or value after you pass away.
All earnings from your works would still go to the beneficiaries of your estate, rather than to people who would seek to snatch up the copyright immediately after your passing. These rights apply to a wide variety of creations, including books, music, art, recipes, inventions, businesses and much more.
The estate planning tools you use to pass on your intellectual property rights to your heirs depend on your preferences and the circumstances of your estate. Some people find trusts to be better tools than wills, especially if they are seeking to limit or completely avoid estate taxes. Again, it’s best to work with an experienced estate planning attorney to make sure you are protecting your assets and your best interests.
Tom Bolt is Managing Attorney at BoltNagi PC, a respected and well-established estate and tax planning law firm proudly serving clients throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands and serves as a Uniform Law Commissioner.