Copyrights, patents, trademarks and more – all count as intellectual property and thus are assets that need to be considered when drawing up a will. covered the issue earlier this year when Marks and Spencer’s got into a dispute with Aldi about intellectual property relating to a well-known caterpillar cake. (It just so happened that almost every other supermarket also has a version of the caterpillar cake, and Aldi delivered a blinder in social media management to get the public on its side.)

But if you have written books or music, developed an app, run a successful lifestyle blog or YouTube that rakes in thousands of pounds a month, you must consider these as assets that can be passed on once you die.

Bridgerton – Amazon bestseller

In the UK, copyright on books, for example, runs for 70 years after the author’s death. Take for example, Julia Pottinger otherwise known as Julia Quinn – the author of the Bridgerton books. When record-breaking TV series hit our Netflix screens at the end of 2020, book sales shot up. Ms Pottinger is in her early 50s and has two children. Her book sales and royalties from the series are likely to continue making a considerable income after her death, and without a doubt will be included in her estate.

Intellectual property rights make money in two ways – either by creating an income of their own, or the income that derives from associated work in the form of royalties. But a Will must take account of them to ensure that that the income can be passed on.

Intellectual property forms part of your estate. Anyone without a Will is said to have died intestate and their property and intellectual property will pass on to those who are entitled to receive it under the rules of intestacy. One famous case relating to this is that of Stieg Larsson, the author of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo books, who died in his 50s without leaving a Will.

Larsson’s Will

This resulted in his father and brother inheriting his intellectual property rights. At the time of his death, these were not that valuable, but the trilogy’s popularity exploded, and films followed, ramping up their value considerably. Larsson’s partner had found a Will where he specified that he wanted his assets left to the local branch of the communist party, but this hadn’t been signed and was therefore not valid.

You can also protect intellectual property assets by directing them to a trust, which allows for some control over these assets every after you die as you can leave instructions for how these assets should be managed.

People with intellectual property assets can appoint literary executors as well as a ‘normal’ executor to administer a Will. Literary executors should be people with specialist knowledge of the value of such assets and how they can be protected/maximised. With image rights, for example, you might want your image used in some ways when you are gone but have strong feelings about where your image is not used.

With the rise of self-publishing platforms such as YouTube, the many podcast options, Amazon, Apple and Google Play, etc., it’s likely more of us will have intellectual property to dispose of in the future, and however insignificant it might appear at present, that can always change.

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