Estate Planning for Domain Names

Registered domain names are the words, letters, or numbers that we use to refer to an Internet address, such as or An individual or business can register an available name with a domain name registrar for a fixed period of time, typically one or two years. If the domain name is popular or valuable, it is important to track down the individual’s domain names soon after incapacity or death. In an interview on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered program, broadcast on May 11, 2009, John W. Dozier, Jr., a Virginia attorney, described a case in which hackers stole a decedent’s domain names before the beneficiaries of the estate knew about them. In that case, the law firm was able to help the estate recover all of the domain names.

If the family members or fiduciaries want to retain an individual’s domain names, it’s important to check when the domain names expire using a “whois” service available at almost any domain name registrar’s Web site. If you do not know which domain names an individual owns, some companies, such as, offer a fee based search of domain names by the registrant’s name, e–mail address, home address, or telephone number. But if an individual registers a domain name privately, these search tools may not find anything connecting the individual to the domain names. Look through credit card statements and checking account statements for annual payments to domain name registrars in order to find the companies that may have privately registered domain names on behalf of the individual.

The vast majority of domain names have little or no value to third parties. But a domain name can have significant value if it is a popular Internet search word or phrase, a word or phrase useful for selling goods and services, or a company brand name. According to midFlux, a company that provides domain name appraisals, some of the most valuable domain names that have been sold are ($7.5 million in 2005), ($7.5 million in 2006), and ($7.0 million in 2004). Some domain names have sold for even larger amounts. A domain name appraisal is not very expensive—usually $30 or less for a typical domain name. Note that a domain name is valued separately from the content of the Web page or other services offered through that domain name. If the family or fiduciary wants to sell the individual’s domain names, they can sell them on Internet sites dedicated to domain name sales, such as Sedo or Afternic, or they can be sold at general Internet marketplaces such as eBay.

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