Following Karen Myers' recent post about estate planning for author-entrepreneurs, Maggie Lynch addresses the issue of appointing a literary executive for individual indie authors, as part of our occasional series on different aspects of running an author business.
Please note Maggie Lynch is not a lawyer and is sharing a personal account of her own experience rather than formal legal advice.
Karen Myers' earlier post provided interesting ideas about giving intellectual property to a micro-publisher. Today I'm going to address how to make sure your heirs (whether that is family, friends, or a nonprofit) benefit from that and who makes the decisions about licensing future intellectual property rights (eg translations, movie or TV deals, audiobooks, etc.) that may not have been licensed at the time of your death.
Whenever I think of future licensing, I am reminded of other authors who were not bestsellers or well-known during their life, such as Phillip K Dick, whose novels and short stories were later made into movies for cinema or TV.
Why I've Appointed a Literary Executor
In my will, I've assigned a literary executor who is separate from the primary executor of my estate.
The reason for that is that my primary executor (son), though an attorney, knows only the basics about intellectual property and how to exploit it (two courses in law school). His specialty is not in IP. Furthermore, both my children have little interest in learning right now. They have their own lives and children, are growing their own careers, and lots of other things that 30-somethings with a family typically have on their plate right now.
By having a person I trust to be the literary executor – someone who not only understands but is good at licensing and exploitation of rights and/or knows who to partner with to do that – I am confident that the IP I have will be well-tended. In the will she receives a percentage of the profits for her work and the remainder is equally distributed to the children. (Conventional executors who operate for an indefinite period receive payment, too.)
A layman's book I found very helpful for starting my planning is ML Buchmann's Estate Planning for Authors. It begins with the concept of your “final letter” to your family which outlines everything you need them to know, including:
- your inventory of products
- current distribution partners
- other business partners (editors, cover designers, web designers)
- access to online accounts the appointment of a literary executor and their relationship to the family
Of course, the actual final will is then vetted by an attorney to make sure it meets state and federal requirements to stand up in court should someone contest the will.
Why All Authors Should Do This
This is VERY important for all authors to do. Even if you don't do everything I did right now, you should at least have that final letter so your heirs have a clue what this crazy writing business is about and what intellectual property you have left behind.
If appointing another micro-publisher as your literary executor, as Karen Myers suggested, as a vehicle for maximizing royalties for the heirs, you would want to vet the capabilities of the micro-publisher as well. Some publishers know a lot about the complicated business of being an indie author and running an author business, while others do not.
OVER TO YOU If you've made plans for your literary estate after your death, do you have any top tips to share? We'd love to hear them!#Authors - have you appointed your literary executor yet? Make sure your heirs have access to your rights! Get started with this post by @MaggieAuthor Click To Tweet
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From the ALLi Author Advice Center Archive