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Authors' wills, trusts, and estates

December 31, 2014

Tags: will, will and testament, author's estate

In 2014, the National Archives (UK) brought online a collection of documents that will delight biographers and historians: Famous wills 1552-1854. Among them, the wills of William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Admiral Lord Nelson, Dr. Samuel Johnson, John Donne, Sir Francis Drake, William Congreve, Samuel Pepys, William Penn, George Frederic Handel, and William Wordsworth.

Have you spelled out who inherits your intellectual property? Here are some helpful explanations:
What Happens When an Author Dies? (Passive Guy, The Passive Voice, A Lawyer's Thoughts on Authors, Self-Publishing and Traditional Publishing, 8-8-11). Excellent long post, covering all the bases (so far as I know)
Neil Gaiman on why writers tend to put off writing wills, particularly wills that spell out how their intellectual property should be handled. You can download a template (PDF) of a generic will for U.S. authors but maybe run it by a lawyer, as laws vary by state.
Writers' wills: a rich legacy for readers (Claire Armitstead, The Guardian, 1-8-14) As a stock of famous authors' final testaments are posted online, we can be glad of the insights they leave to us.

Wills of the Rich and Famous (aka "celebrity wills," posted on Living Trust Network, an estate planning portal). Featured: Warren Burger, Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), Princess Diana. Walt Disney, Doris Duke, Elizabeth Edwards, Henry Fonda, Benjamin Franklin, Clark Gable, James Gandolfini, Katherine Hepburn, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, "Shoeless Joe" Jackson, Thomas Jefferson, President John F. Kennedy, John Kennedy, Jr. and more.

Guest-blogging on Writers in the storm, Susan Spann (author of the popular Shinobi Mystery series, published a series of pieces advising on authors' estate planning and authors' trusts, under the Publaw theme (where you can find more of these). I'll link to some of them here:
WHO WILL YOU TRUST? Wills in Author Estate PlanningSusan Spann, guest blog on Writers in the Storm, 5-10-13).
Who Inherits Your Copyrights? (4-22-13)
Do You Own Your Copyrights? (Susan Spann, 1-10-14)
Do You Know Your (Copy) Rights? (Susan Spann, 12-13-13)
Who Can an Author Trust? Trusts in the Author Estate Plan (6-14-13).
Do You Need a Literary Executor? (Susan Spann, 7-15-13)
How to Choose a Literary Executor (Susan Spann, 8-9-13)
But What Does a Literary Trustee DO? (Part 1) (Susan Spann)
Trust The Process: Literary Executors, Part 2 (Susan Spann)
The Rules of Estate Administration (Marie A. Corliss, Elder Care Matters, a site where much additional material can be found)

Rights and Royalties Management, Licensing,
issues about and problems with authors' and artists' estates
. What happens to works after authors die. (Writers and Editors, Copyright, work for hire, and other rights issues)

SFWA runs two helpful lists (which cover more than genre fiction writers):
Estates Contact Information
Estates we’re looking for

Literary estates administered by The Society of Authors (UK)

Wills, Probate and Trusts For Writers (H.S. Stavropoulos, author of crime fiction with a Greek-American flavor)

Now some stunning photographs:
15 Famous Authors’ Beautiful Estates (Emily Temple, Flavorwire, 1-24-12) Photos of the beautiful homes of Anaïs Nin, Edith Wharton, Ernest Hemingway, Evelyn Waugh, Gore Vidal, J. K. Rowling, Kurt Vonnegut,Vladimir Nabokov, Mark Twain, Stephen King, Robert Graves, Victor Hugo, Eudora Welty, William Shakespeare, Frederick Douglass.'

What other resources are helpful? Tell me about experiences you've had or know about that it might be helpful for others to know about -- particularly problems to avoid or minimize.

Comments

  1. January 6, 2015 6:44 PM EST
    "The nation’s current split between states that recognize same-sex marriage and those that don’t creates a double standard under the Copyright Act. The law grants rights to an author’s surviving spouse only if the marriage is recognized in the state where the author dies. But what if an author marries validly in Vermont but dies in Georgia, which does not currently recognize the marriage?" Authors Guild Announces Support for Copyright and Marriage Equality Bill. "The proposed bill changes the law to consider only whether a couple is lawfully married—not whether the state an author lives in at the time of death recognizes that marriage.
    - PM