In today’s society, intellectual property rights are rapidly increasing for those individuals that are business savvy and artistically or scientifically talented. Intellectual property rights (aka intangible assets) include patents, copyrights, trademarks, and publicity rights. In most instances, intangible assets are obtained as a direct result of someone’s job, profession, or trade. With the vast expansion of the Internet, many new intangible assets have been acquired in the last 10 – 15 years. Therefore, the issues involved with these assets are continually evolving and the governing law is struggling to keep up.
The rules governing these intangible assets and the way they are treated when passed through an estate is anything but clear. There are a few key issues that should be addressed when intellectual property is incorporated into an estate. First, valuing the asset always poses a challenge, especially when the formula involves reducing the future earnings to present value. How to address current and future income from the asset is another key issue. Next, some intangible assets have a specific life for which the owner has exclusive rights. According to federal law, copyrights last for the life of the author plus 70 years. On the other hand, patent rights are divided into two categories with design patents receiving 14 years and utility patents receiving 20 years.
Furthermore, intellectual property creates a unique concern with the return of the Federal Estate Tax in 2011 and the looming effect on everyone with a slightly more than modest estate. For example, the executor of a best-selling author’s estate may be forced to sell the future publication rights of a book in order to cover estate taxes. The author may be uncomfortable with the thought that his unfinished work could be published once he is gone. Enhancing your estate with a life insurance trust can guard against these estate tax concerns.