What Happens to Your Law Firm Website When You Die?

I bet you never really thought about that, did you?  Well, guess what?  You really need to. And this includes your Facebook Fan page and profile, LinkedIn and others.

In this post I’m not going to pretend to be an accountant or a cyberlawyer or intellectual property lawyer.  I’m simply going to give you food for thought so if I strike a chord with you, you will go out and seek the proper advice.

You’ve worked hard to establish a brand, a name for yourself, using your name for your firm.  You are building up reputation, traffic, value that is created by your content, your domain name and any ‘slogan’ you may have embraced as your own (but didn’t trademark?).  Some companies actually look to place a monetary value on your domain name based upon the length of time you’ve had it and the traffic it generates thus creating real estate value*.  And depending upon the power of your ‘slogan’ or ‘search words’ your domain may pop up in the top slot on Google. It is internet real estate which you own and you need to start valuing it.

If you are a large law firm blogger and you die, chances are the law firm would continue to own the name and the contents if they paid for it and you blogged for ‘the firm’ as part of your job description.  There are some well known bloggers, however, who are partners of firms but their blogs are their own property that goes with them even if the law firm reimburses them their website design and hosting expenses. They simply benefit from the traffic the site generates to the partner which translates to firm profit.

However, as a solo, you are creating the value in this ‘asset’ and so, again, what happens to it when you die? You don’t have the Big Law firm protecting you.  You have to do it yourself.

The law is clear enough, as Struan Robertson, Legal Director with Pinsent Masons and Editor of OUT-LAW.com explains. “You can bequeath your copyright to others,” he says. “So I can say in my will that I’m leaving all my rights in my photographs or website to a friend. If I don’t do that, the copyright will belong to my estate – and in most cases it will survive for 70 years after my death.”

Your estate may own the copyright, but that doesn’t mean your stuff will stay online. “In most cases contracts will terminate with your death,” Robertson says, “although it can depend on the terms of the contract.” (TechRadar)

But this then begs the question, “Is your content copyrighted?”.  Solo blogger, Carolyn Elefant, recently had a nasty lesson on the importance of copyrighting her work which you can read about here. This company was simply lifting her work without financial benefit to her while she is alive and marketing her own work. What happens to her work when she is no longer alive? (May you live long and prosper, Carolyn.) This body of work has monetary value to her estate as does the domain name, MyShingle.com.

All of us need to think about the value of our internet real estate, our content, our domain name and ‘branding’ and should consider these assets when we create an estate plan or even when we calculate the value of our firm should we wish to sell it. If we would fight the fight during our professional lifetimes to protect our internet content and real estate, why not value it upon our death?

You can read more about how different online companies will handle your internet real estate here.

So, how are you protecting your professional online investment?

*There are tens of thousands of website appraisers out there, most measuring links to determine value.  Your value is not based upon this alone.  Your value is based upon the returns you get, penetration within your target audience, not just some mathematical algorithm.

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