Estate Planning - Creative Law Center

Estate Planning

No Excuses: Estate Planning for Creatives [Workshop Replay]

The visual artist Harriet Schorr once said, “Dead artists leave two bodies: their own, and a body of work.”

There’s not much you can do about the first, but you can take control of the second. And the sooner you tend to the needs of your creative portfolio, the easier you will rest.

There are three things you should try to accomplish when planning for what happens when you die:

  • to make life easy for those you leave behind
  • to preserve your legacy in a way that aligns with your values; and
  • to minimize legal problems

If you keep these three goals in mind, the decisions you need to make during the estate planning process become easier.

Your Copyrights Will Live Longer Than You Will

Your collected works – your creations of the mind – if attended to and managed, may thrive long past your physical demise.

If you are interested in having your work survive you to be enjoyed by future generations and perhaps provide a source of income for your heirs – you need to plan for it.

Copyright law gives you a certain amount of time to commercially exploit your creative work exclusively. That period of time is the life of the creator plus 70 years.

If you’ve published your work using a pseudonym or anonymously, the time frame for protection is different. The copyright for pseudonymous work lasts for 95 years from the year the work was published or 120 years from the year of creation, whichever is shorter.

So, there some things you might want to change in order to secure the longest protection period possible.

The reality is that your work may continue to generate revenue long after you’re gone. Maybe even more than during your lifetime. Odd as that is to think about, it happens all the time.

The time to consider what you want to happen to your body of work is now. Don’t leave important decisions to chance, or to a passel of heirs who may not be able or willing to sort these things out.

BUY NOW: Estate Planning for Creatives

Your work is highly personal. How do you want it treated when you’re gone? Do you want to restrict who can license your work? Do you want your unpublished work shared with the world, or not?

Just leaving your body of work to your heirs without thorough consideration of what that means is probably not the best answer. Your heirs may not know what to do with your intellectual property or how to manage ongoing relationships.

And remember, there is a difference between the physical possession of a piece of work on one hand and the ownership of the copyright to those works on the other.

And it’s not just the work itself, it’s the copyright to your work, the contracts and licenses you have entered into on behalf of your creative business. It’s also about new licenses, uses, and contracts.

Planning for the future of intangible creative work is not just for the Andy Warhols or Tom Clancys of the world. It’s simply another layer on top of the prudent planning you should already be doing for your tangible personal property like your real estate, stocks, cash, and other worldly items.

What is Covered in this Workshop

In this workshop, we explore the practical considerations that go into crafting a will or trust to manage your life’s creative work, including:

  • Choosing an executor (general, literary, digital asset manager, or copyright management organization)
  • Granting powers to the executor (right to enter new licenses or contracts, control over copyright license termination, control over preservation and destruction of your work)
  • Choosing a successor executor
  • Instructions for unpublished work and papers
  • Instructions for your online work
  • Creating an inventory of work, copyrights, contracts, and licenses with downloadable checklists

If you have not made a plan and do not have a will, the state will decide how your property will be divvied up and who will make the decisions about it. And every state is different.

Keep these important decisions out of the hands of your state.

Our guest in this workshop is Cheri Dorsey, an estates and trusts attorney who handles all areas of estate planning, estate administration, and trust administration. She works with business owners on succession planning, particularly with respect to transferring interests in family businesses to the next generation. She also has experience assisting those with estates holding collections of creative work.

Cheri is admitted to the bar in Maryland, USA but the general concepts covered during the workshop can be used to inform your discussions with your personal attorney.

This is a replay of a live, interactive workshop using Zoom that was offered as part of the Creative Law Center membership program.

You may post any follow-up questions you have in the comment section after you log into the workshop area.

BUY NOW: Estate Planning for Creatives

Estate Planning

About the Author

Kathryn Goldman helps small business people, writers, artists, and creative professionals make a living from their creative work by teaching them how to protect and enforce their rights. She is an attorney who writes these posts to help you be more thoughtful about intellectual property and the law as you build your business, write your stories, and create your art.