Estate planning for intellectual property

If you are an inventor, author, artist, or owner of a closely held business, you may have already taken steps to help protect your Intellectual Property Rights. Certain types of intellectual property, such as business ideas, visual art, published or unpublished literary and musical works, inventions computer programs, and design of clothing and architecture, may be protected by law with copyrights, patents, and trademarks. When planning your estate, carefully plan these valuable assets to help ensure that they are transferred to your heirs according to your wishes upon your death.

Initially, it is important to determine if the intellectual property can be passed down to heirs. Certain types of intellectual property may have renewal or termination rights through copyrights, patents and trademarks. This can create questions as to when intellectual property right owners choose a second executor to handle intellectual property issues in their estates.

For example, an author may appoint a family member to oversee the general administration of his or her estate, as well as a second person or entity — with experience in intellectual property — handle posthumous publications. Also, the valuation of intellectual property poses a challenge to estate planning. The IRS offers guidelines for some, but not all, types of intellectual property.

For instance, the valuation of literary work is based on the copyright’s future earnings potential reduced to its present value. Theoretically, this value methodology may also apply to other types of intellectual property.

However, the question may remain as to how far into the future the potential for earnings exists. It is important to hire a professional appraiser to help determine the current value of intellectual property and how future trends may also affect this value.

Estate taxation affects individuals with substantial assets, regardless of the type of property that is included in their estate. As an example, just as an executor might be forced to sell a family vacation home solely to pay for estates taxes, a known author may fear that after his or her death, the future publication rights to unpublished work will need to be sold for the same reason.

Proper estate planning is very important in helping to make sure the decedent’s wishes are carried. A Life Insurance Policy purchased and is owned by an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust, if correctly structured and administered, it can provide cash at death to help satisfy obligations. This use of life insurance can provide flexibility in an estate with only a small amount of liquid assets. Estate planning for intangible assets involves an array of complicated considerations.

A basic understanding of the issues involved merely underscores the need for appropriate planning to help insure the ultimate distribution of your assets according to your wishes.


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