How Intellectual Property Fits into Your Estate Plan

An estate plan is a comprehensive guide to how you want your estate managed after your passing. Your Orange County Estate Planning Attorneys can explicitly lay out your wishes about how you want your assets divided and who the beneficiaries of those assets will be. One shortcoming of many estate plans is that they tend to focus solely on tangible assets like investments, property, and real estate. You may not even realize it, but you could be holding something more valuable than cash. You may own intellectual property.

Unfortunately, many people don’t factor their intellectual property into their estate plan. Intellectual property isn’t something you can see or feel, like jewelry or antiques. Yet, it may be just as valuable. Here’s what you need to think about when considering how your intellectual property should be included in your estate plan.

What Is Intellectual Property?

Intellectual property, also called IP, refers to the works that come from an individual’s creative mind. Intellectual property can include artwork, literary pieces, musical compositions, inventions, and other unique works generated by the mind of an individual. Intellectual property can be protected by law in a variety of ways, thus allowing the creator to financially benefit from their creative endeavors. Some of the most common examples of intellectual property include:

  • Copyright – A copyright legally protects the creator’s piece of work and gives the creator sole rights to reproduce, distribute, and display their piece. Generally, copyrights protect literature, music, film, artwork, photographs, paintings, and computer programs for the creator’s lifetime plus 70 years if the piece was created before January 1st, 1978. 
  • Trademark – Trademarks are legal identifiers applied to things like names, logos, and slogans. Trademarks are used in combination with goods and services and help consumers identify a particular brand. 
  • Patent – Patents are exclusive rights granted to an inventor for their design. Patents can be utility patents, meaning they pertain to a newly invented product or technology, or they can be design patents for an ornamental design or unique pattern. 
  • Trade Secrets – Trade secrets are a form of intellectual property that includes confidential information that could be sold or licensed. Generally, trade secrets must be considered commercially valuable, and the knowledge must be limited to only a select group of people. Certain business practices, formulas, and recipes may qualify as trade secrets. 

How to Include Intellectual Property in an Estate Plan 

You, as the creator, typically hold the rights to your intellectual property. Transferring ownership of your IP to a beneficiary can ensure that the project you worked so hard to create stays in your family, and your relatives will continue to benefit from your work. Most IP rights can be transferred to a beneficiary after your passing. However, you will want to talk to an experienced estate planning attorney about your options for passing on your IP rights.

In some cases, it may be wise to consider placing your IP rights in a trust. Depending on the trust, you may be able to continue managing your IP through the trust while specifying how you want your beneficiaries to dictate the creative direction of your IP after your passing. A trust may also help your beneficiaries avoid probate. Other forms of intellectual property may be better suited to being passed to a beneficiary through a provision in your will.

Talk to an Experienced Orange County Estate Planning Attorney

Protect your intellectual legacy today and talk to a skilled estate planning attorney about your IP options. A knowledgeable attorney can help you create a plan that addresses all your goals. We are here to assist clients at our Orange County law firm, in addition to our other firms located throughout the state of California. If you have questions or you are ready to get started, simply contact us at (800) 244-8814 to schedule a consultation. 


If you have any further questions about asset protection planning and strategies to shield your wealth, or if you’d like to have your current asset protection plan reviewed to make sure it still meets your needs, please contact us at our California asset protection office at 800-244-8814 to set up a consultation.

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