6 minute read

Should Copyright be Included in your Will or Trust?

Is a Will or Trust the better tool for transferring your copyright to your loved ones? Trust & Will takes a look at the advantages and disadvantages for each option.

Patrick Hicks

Patrick Hicks, @PatrickHicks

Head of Legal, Trust & Will

Planning for the distribution of your assets after you pass away is a critical aspect of estate planning.

While tangible possessions like property and investments are often at the forefront of these discussions, it's equally important to consider intangible assets such as copyright and intellectual property.

In today's digital age, where creative works and innovative ideas are pervasive, ensuring their proper management, protection, and eventual transfer of ownership becomes paramount. This guide explores the advantages of including copyright in your estate plan, and further, whether intellectual property is better off included in your Will or your Trust. Trust & Will weighs in on the benefits and drawbacks of each approach to help you make informed decisions about your estate plan.

Intellectual Property and Copyright: What are They?

Before delving into the specifics of estate planning, it's essential to understand the concepts of intellectual property and copyright.

Intellectual property (IP) encompasses a broader scope of legal rights that protect creations of the mind. It includes not only copyright but also trademarks, patents, trade secrets, protecting innovations, brands, and proprietary information.

Copyright falls under the broader umbrella of intellectual property as described above. It refers to the legal right granted to the creator of an original work. They have exclusive rights to use and distribute their own creations.

Here are some examples of copyrighted work:

  • literary works like books, poems, and novels

  • musical compositions and recordings

  • artistic works such as paintings, sculptures, photographs, and digital graphics

  • films and other audiovisual works

Copyright Case Study: Taylor's Version

One compelling case study that highlights the relevance of copyright law today is that of Taylor Swift and her decision to create “Taylor’s Version” of her own songs.

Swift’s move to re-record her entire catalog stemmed from her desire to own the masters of her work. In the music industry, owning the master recording of a song or album means having control over the use and reproduction of that music. Swift's early albums were recorded under a contract that left the ownership of the masters with her former label. This arrangement became controversial when the masters were sold to another company. Swift publicly disputed this decision, as it meant she did not have control over how her original recordings were used or sold.

To assert her rights and regain a measure of control, Swift embarked on a project to re-record versions of her old albums, adding to every album title and song, “Taylor’s Version.” By doing this, Swift aims to diminish the value of the original masters owned by her former label, encouraging fans and media companies to use her re-recorded versions instead.

This case study underlines the power of copyright law, but also its complexity. It also highlights the importance for artists to understand and negotiate the terms of copyright and ownership from the outset of their careers. Swift now gets to assert control over her own music, as well as set a precedent for other artists, in how to go about managing your own intellectual property in a capitalist environment.

Including Copyright and Intellectual Property in Your Estate Plan: How it Works & its Advantages

In addition to protecting your copyright and other types of intellectual property during your own lifetime, it's also important to be strategic about what should happen to it after you pass away. One powerful tool to implement to address the future would be your estate plan.

Incorporating Copyright & IP into an Estate Plan

Incorporating copyright into an estate plan entails designating how your intellectual property rights will be handled, transferred, or distributed upon your death.

This process involves listing all copyrights as assets in your Will, or alternatively, setting up a Trust and transferring your property to it. Either option entitles you to appoint heirs for your copyrights, ensuring your work continues to be protected posthumously. Further, it is crucial to protect your intellectual property if they will generate income for your Beneficiaries.

Having a clear plan can also prevent disputes among heirs and maintain the integrity and intended use of your copyrighted works. Legal mechanisms like copyrights can also have a set expiration date after the creator's lifetime, after which they become public domain. (Currently, the sunset date for copyrighted works is 70 years after the author's passing.) Including them in your estate plan will enable more thoughtful decision-making about their future use and management, helping preserve its value for generations to come.

Estate Plan Advantages for Copyright & IP

With this said, here are the specific advantages of integrating your copyright and other intellectual property with your estate plan:

1. Preservation of Legacy: By incorporating copyright and intellectual property into your estate plan, you ensure the preservation and continued management of your creative and innovative legacy. For example, you can appoint a trusted person to manage the business aspect of your creations in the form of a Power of Attorney. This allows your heirs to benefit from your works or inventions while safeguarding your rights.

2. Asset Protection: Intellectual property is an asset, especially so if it creates income in any way. By including it in your estate plan, you provide a structured framework for its transfer, minimizing the risk of disputes or unauthorized use after your passing.

3. Control Over Distribution: Through your Will or Trust, you can specify how your copyrights and intellectual property should be distributed among your Beneficiaries, ensuring your wishes are honored and your assets are utilized according to your intentions.

Should I Put My Copyright in my Will or Trust?

Once you decide that it is the wiser decision to protect your copyright(s) via your estate plan, you may be wondering how to best go about it. This is especially interesting when taking other factors into consideration, such as protecting residual income for your heirs, or wanting to protect your privacy regarding these matters.

Here, we'll break down several advantages and disadvantages to consider between bequeathing your copyrights to Beneficiaries through your Will, or transferring them first to a Trust.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Including Copyright in a Will

You can think of your Will as the baseline requirement for your estate plan. Everyone should have a Will at minimum, and then they can add on more estate planning tools to their portfolio as needed. In this case, does a Will sufficiently protect your copyright? Take a look at these advantages and disadvantages below and begin to form your opinion.


1. Simplicity: A Will offers a straightforward mechanism for bequeathing your copyright and intellectual property, making it accessible to heirs and executors.

2. Flexibility: You retain the freedom to revise your Will as needed, allowing you to adapt to changes in circumstances or beneficiaries' preferences.


1. Probate Proceedings: Assets transferred through a Will are subject to probate, which can be time-consuming and costly, potentially delaying the distribution of intellectual property.

2. Public Record: Wills are filed with the court upon your passing, becoming a matter of public record. This transparency may not be desirable if you wish to keep the details of your intellectual property private.

Advantages & Disadvantages of Transferring Copyright to a Trust

A Trust is a popular estate planning tool for the number of benefits it can reap for a person managing their estate. While they add to the cost and complexity of setting up and managing the estate, the benefits are often well worth the effort. Here are the benefits and drawbacks to think about:


1. Privacy: Unlike Wills, Trusts offer a higher level of privacy, as they are not subject to probate and remain confidential documents.

2. Efficiency: Assets held in a Trust can be distributed to beneficiaries without the delays associated with probate, ensuring a smoother transition of intellectual property rights.

3. Tax and creditor Protection: Trusts can be structured to offer tax and creditor protection for your assets, including copyright and intellectual property rights.


1. Complexity: Establishing and managing a Trust requires careful planning and ongoing administration, potentially involving additional costs and legal fees.

2. Limited Flexibility: Once assets are transferred to a Trust, they are subject to the terms outlined in the trust agreement, limiting your ability to make changes compared to a Will.

3. Cost: Setting up a Trust can be more expensive than creating a Will, as it requires the assistance of an attorney or financial advisor.

Will vs. Trust: Which is Better for Protecting Copyright?

Deciding what should happen to your intellectual property such as your copyright is a highly personal decision. However, the general consensus among the legal community is that Trusts are typically the better option for protecting your copyright after you pass away.

Trusts allow you to have better control over how and when your copyright will be used posthumously, and the nature in which your heirs can benefit from it. Further, it ensures privacy, which is often very important for intellectual property matters.

Here, we urge you to consult your estate planning professionals, as this particular type of planning is complex. Seeking guidance from your selected legal and financial advisor who has specific expertise in this legal area will help you make sure that your plan aligns with your goal and objectives while also complying with any applicable laws.

Second, we also remind you of the importance of regularly reviewing your estate plan and updating it as needed. Significant life events such as getting married, getting a divorce, launching a new creative endeavor, all typically necessitate adjustments to your plan. Keep a close eye on the evolving requirements and circumstances of your assets and Beneficiaries as well.

Incorporating copyright and intellectual property into your estate plan is essential for preserving your creative and innovative legacy while protecting the interests of your heirs. Whether through a Will or Trust, careful consideration of the advantages and disadvantages of each approach is crucial to ensuring an effective and seamless transfer of assets. Take proactive steps today to safeguard your intellectual property rights for the benefit of future generations. Start by setting up your estate plan with Trust & Will to secure your legacy and protect what matters most. Take our free quiz to see where you should get started, or compare our different estate planning and settlement  options today!

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