Royalties and Estate Planning

For many individuals, intellectual property is not just something they create but also how they make their living. They might create content for websites, write fiction novels, act in movies, make graphic designs, or engage in any other aspect of intellectual property. Often intellectual property produces royalties or other residual income that needs to be accounted for No matter what your connection to intellectual property in your name, it is important to consider such property when determining the best comprehensive estate planning strategy to meet your needs. Often this involves assigning rights to that property to a trust, but there are a number of options available to those concerned about the future of their intellectual property rights.

The Basic Process

Generally, any intellectual property in the name of a deceased individual becomes part of that individual’s estate. That means such property could go through probate if you do not have the proper estate planning mechanisms in place to handle your property.

Some individuals with extensive copyrights or other interests might want to consider appointing an executor specifically for the management and/or distribution of such property. Doing so can also help relieve family members that may not have the experience to successfully manage such interests of the responsibility to do so. In many cases, handling the various legal aspects of intellectual property can involve extensive negotiation and management, and in such cases providing for the expense of an individual to manage such assets can save you money in the long run by preventing extended probate or other issues that could otherwise arise.


Trusts can also be an effective mechanism for handling intellectual property. While alive, you can assign intellectual property rights to various types of trusts. You may also be able to arrange for certain rights and interests to be transferred to a trust on death depending on the structure of your estate plan. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you understand more about your options when it comes to trusts and the many purposes they can serve for you.

If you have created a trust, then you want to make sure that the publisher and any other individual involved is aware of the trust and is directing payments to that trust. If you do not plan ahead, it can be difficult – and sometimes impossible – for your family to make the most out of your interest in intellectual property rights, and that can have a significant impact on your estate.

Important Considerations

Regardless of the method you choose to handle intellectual property rights and any income related to them, it is important to communicate that information with all parties involved. For instance, if you have written published material like a boo then you want to make sure your publisher is aware of any mechanism you have created to handle money gained from it in the form of royalties or other residual payments.

In the case of copyrights, you will need to let the United States Copyright Office know that you have transferred your interest in a copyright to the trust. In this case, you will also need to let anyone else involved in proceeds from a copyright know that you have assigned your interest to a trust and potentially who the beneficiary is for that trust so that they are able to exercise control of it after your death.

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