DFW Estate Planning Attorneys on Inheriting Patents, Copyrights, and Other Intellectual Property

February 1, 2021

Intellectual property – ideas or works of art that have value but don’t originate in material reality – are considered personal property and may be bequeathed to heirs. There is well-established law on intellectual property and estate law for those who want their heirs to benefit from the fruits of their labors. If you’re creating an estate plan that may include intellectual property but don’t know where to start, here are a few pointers from our DFW estate planning attorneys:

Anyone can inherit intellectual property, and it can be put in a trust.

Intellectual property is personal property, and it can be bequeathed to anyone. If an intellectual property owner dies intestate, the property will go to his or her next of kin. Likewise, it can be put into a trust to benefit anyone, any charity, or any entity. Since intellectual property can generate passive income, putting it into a trust not only allows it to bypass probate but also allows it to pay out to a beneficiary without him or her being responsible for all of the taxes associated with the property and it insulates the asset from the beneficiary’s creditors.

All intellectual property can be inherited.

Any valid patent, trademark, or copyright can be inherited. They will go to a designated heir if included in a will or benefit certain beneficiary heirs if included in a trust. They can also pass to heirs-at-law if the owner dies intestate (without a will). Any income generated from the intellectual property while in probate will go to the heir once he or she receives the property; however, intellectual property could potentially expire while in probate, so it’s important to keep a watchful eye on any renewal dates.

The clock doesn’t reset for inherited intellectual property.

Intellectual property expires. Generally, patents expire after 20 years, copyrights after 95 years, and trademarks after 10 years. Trade secrets don’t expire, but if they’re ever made public, they become void. Some types of intellectual property, like copyrights and trademarks, can be renewed without any material change to the design; however, the expiration date doesn‘t change if the intellectual property is inherited. For example, if someone inherits a ten-year-old patent, the patent expires after ten years, not twenty.

Executors or Trustees can renew intellectual property.

An executor or a trustee can, and should, renew a copyright or trademark on behalf of the beneficiaries if necessary. In fact, a trustee has a duty to maintain all property in a trust to the best of his or her ability, and renewing a copyright or trademark is something within the trustee’s power, and, arguably, within the trustee’s duty.

An estate lawyer can help you include intellectual property in your estate plan.

 Your heirs can benefit from the intellectual property you created for one or more generations to come with careful and thorough estate planning. An estate lawyer can help you include intellectual property in your estate plan in a way that works for both you and your heirs. If you plan to leave intellectual property to your loved ones, our DFW estate planning attorneys at Martin Lawyers are here to answer all of your questions. Simply call our office at (817) 752-3307 to schedule a consultation.

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