You Can’t Take a Domain Name With You When You Die — So, Make Arrangements Now

May 23, 2012

By Doug Isenberg

Where does a domain name go when its registrant dies?

That’s a question that could have been asked in a recent Wall Street Journal article, “If a Business Owner Dies, Who Can Access the Web?” The article focuses on how small businesses continue operating after an owner dies if they depend on cloud-based computing services that were registered in the name of the dearly departed.

If an online banking account, payroll service or e-mail account is controlled by an individual, then a company may have trouble using those services after the individual dies — especially if the individual has not shared the username and password with others who should have access to them.

The same is especially true for domain names, which need to be renewed and which are essential to most companies’ operations — for a website and/or e-mail addresses.

Think about it. What would you do if your website and e-mail addresses suddenly stopped working because the domain name supporting them was registered to someone at your company who has died? Or, for that matter, someone who simply left your company on less morbid terms.

It might mean the death of your business.

And, it’s not just an issue for small businesses.  Companies of all sizes have gotten into trouble for failure to renew their domain names for a variety of reasons. In 2003, Microsoft reportedly failed to renew its <hotmail.co.uk> domain name — but quickly recovered it from “a good hearted soul.”

But many others are not so lucky. Numerous trademark owners have filed UDRP complaints to recover domain names previously in their control. Donna Karan Studio accidentally failed to renew <dknyjeans.com>, Edmunds.com, Inc. let <edmund.com> inadvertently lapse, and even the International Olympic Committee let <olympicmuseum.org> and <olympicmuseum.net> slip through the renewal cracks.

Ensuring that domain names are registered to a corporate (not individual) account and that multiple trustworthy people have access to (and even regularly check on) domain name registrations could help avoid a domain name lapse — when someone dies or merely forgets to do his job.

And while it’s true in the world of domain names, as it is elsewhere, that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, the UDRP often can help a trademark owner recover its domain in a worst-case scenario.

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