Monday, August 03, 2015

Making After Life Arrangements for Your Writing

In preparing for death we buy life insurance, longterm care insurance, we make wills and some even choose burial clothes or write out funeral wishes. Sadly, I've yet to experience a situation where an author makes similar arrangements for their literary works. And I've had a number of clients who have passed away.

I am not a legal expert so my first bit of advice is to talk to a lawyer about how best to handle your literary works after your death. When you do however I think there are some things you need to think about.
How will future earnings be distributed? Will they go to one person or set up in a trust?
Who will make decisions regarding the rights to the work? Just because a book is published doesn't mean decisions regarding its rights are finished. There are times when the publisher will ask for revisions (and in this case want to hire someone to do revisions), they might want to change or update the cover or, if its a series, continue the series. Who will be your go-to person for these decisions?
What will happen to other works? Will you allow "found" manuscripts to be published? What if you are in the middle of a contract? Are you okay if the family opts to hire an outsider to see the contract through?
Once you've established the legal portion concerning your books, don't overlook the day-to-day business of your publishing career. My suggestion is put together a file and let everyone in your family know where it is and what it's labeled. Maybe label it with the name of your children, spouse, niece or nephew so they won't need to remember what it's called, but it will easily stand out to them when they're searching for it.

In this file you should include a list of all your publications, earned or unearned. I've had situations where a book never earned out, until it did, at that point sending checks became difficult since no one kept me updated with contact information.

Include who handles the statements or sends checks for those books. If they are self-pubbed you'll need to include detailed information for each account from which you receive money. I would suggest including all passwords and how payments and statements are distributed.

If you have an agent you'll need to include the agent's name and her contact information so the family can get in touch about statements and earnings.

I don't think preparing to make your family's life easier is that difficult, but I do suggest it be done. Until I hear from next of kin and am given strict instructions on how to move forward I will continue to send checks in the name of the author. I'm unsure how long that's going to work for the family or how it will play out during tax time.

--jhf



8 comments:

Kate Douglas said...

This is excellent advice--thank you! We have set up a trust, but I never thought to add the titles I have that are available through various publishers. Need to add that to my "to do" list, especially as the list continually expands.

Caitlin Lane said...

Bookmarking this! To be honest I'd never actually given this much thought before. My husband and I are finally getting ready to make our wills out, so this will be very useful.

Marilynn Byerly said...

Neil Gaiman has a suggested will for writers. For those with proper wills, this can be used as a codicil.

http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2006/10/important-and-pass-it-on.html

Sally MacKenzie said...

Thanks for the link, Marilynn.

We did discuss this when we had our will made--I was the executrix for my parents' estates so I knew some of the burden of the job first hand, and that was without intellectual property. I don't think our lawyer really understood why this sort of inheritance is different from stocks and bonds. And the "problem" continues for the life of the copyright, I believe--author's life plus 70 years. So definitely something to plan for.

When husband and I travel together, I always tell sons where to find the necessary information should we not return. They usually roll their eyes--and I do hope they won't need any of it any time soon!

AJ Blythe said...

Not something I'd ever thought about. Have noted it for when I am published!

Thanks for the link, Marilynn. I'm in Australia but I'm sure it will still help.

Her Grace, the Duchess of Kneale said...

ThankyouTHANKYOUthankyou for this info! I've been pondering this question over the past couple of weeks as His Grace and I redraft our wills.

Now that I've got published books and income coming in from them, it's good to know what I need to know for my heirs to deal with this stuff.

Granted, my contracts for my current books have a termination-upon-my-death clause, that'll make some things (but not all things) easier.

french sojourn said...


An interesting example is Harper Lee. Aside from where payments are sent, I wonder if you could dictate any work you wouldn't want published? Although you wouldn't think family members or estate principals would try to profit from your name regardless of ones mental state or heaven forbid one's corpse.

Good lesson.

Emily Keeler said...

I'm in the middle of doing this now. My lawyer had no clue how to approach it, but referred me to someone who was better equipped. It's been a weeks-long process and more in-depth than I ever realized.