Most people who think of estate planning only consider the transfer of tangible property upon death. Others may think about how debts play into the distribution of an estate, too. Yet, there are a whole host of other types of property that can carry tremendous value. Failing to appropriately address them in an estate plan, though, could mean that they wind up in the wrong hand.
Some of these intangible assets are intellectual property. Copyrights, trademarks, and patents can each be very valuable, and some may not even know that they have any of those properties until they sit down and think about it. A novel that is written, for example, has a copyright even if it hasn't been registered with the Library of Congress. This is considerable given that a copyright can last for the life of an author plus 70 years.
Generally speaking, these matters can be addressed through a will. A competently drafted will can clearly delineate how intellectual property is to be transferred, if it is to be transferred at all, and who may license the work, symbol, or invention in question. However, attempting to create these plans on one's own can cause confusion and infighting over who has claim to these types of property.
This is why it is usually wise to work closely with an attorney who knows the ins and outs of estate planning before tackling issues related to intellectual property. One of these legal professionals can help an individual identify his or her goals and utilize the appropriate legal vehicles to bring that vision into reality. Therefore, those who think they may have intellectual property that they want to protect through estate planning should consult with an attorney they trust.