Estate Planning and Intellectual Property

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Many people don’t start planning their estate documents and estate plan until later in their life, as an estate planning lawyer State College, PA trusts can explain. Even if they do, they mainly focus on who will inherit tangible assets, including land, money, houses, stock, investments, and jewelry. However, intangible assets are usually not considered, including inventions, brands, works of authorship, and trade secrets. Many people do not think they have intangible assets, but today most people use social media and the internet, which allow them to write on a multitude of platforms daily. As a step of the process of estate planning, you should also identify your intellectual property.

What is an intangible asset?

An intangible asset comes from your mind being creative. Inventions, works of authorship, trade secrets, and brands are created by our creativity and intelligence. Not everyone is going to be a famous singer, author, inventor, or musician, but you may still have some rights to intellectual property.

Copyright law protects works of authorship. You could be an author of books, website content, articles, or sheet music. Other people could create software codes, paintings, photographs, drawings, sound recordings, or videos. For an author, having a copyright law will last the life of an author plus seventy years. Most people also use social media every day. There will need to be decisions made for what should take place to all the social media content when they die. You will need to review the terms of service of the social media platform to understand the applicable rights. It does not matter if the content has value, it will need to be decided if the deceased’s account will close or stay open after death.

Trade secrets offer protection for any information that someone would keep secret. Trade secrets would include the recipe for a restaurant’s special chicken or the formula to create a famous soda. These formulas and recipes are very valuable. However, even a small local shop’s owner could have a trade secret in the form of a recipe for a unique pizza sauce or a special recipe for a dessert. Trade secrets do not expire as long as they are kept secret.

Patent law protects inventions. The next generation may inherit the right to exclude others from creating or distributing services and products under the invention. Patent rights last for roughly twenty years for the plant and utility patent. Fees for maintenance are due every so often so that the patent rights are not lost or cancelled. If someone’s beneficiaries are not using the rights, a patent license to a third party in exchange for a royalty could be appropriate.

As part of the process of estate planning, intellectual property rights and intangible assets should be accounted for. You will need to decide how to transfer those rights and assets when you die and whether you should transfer these assets into a legal entity prior to your death. It is important that your beneficiaries understand your wishes and understand how to maintain your assets.

 


 

Thanks to our friends and contributors from De Boef Lucchesi, P.C. for their insight into estate planning.