Special Guest Gin Jones on Estate Planning for Writers
Posted by Amanda Brice Dec 19 2013, 12:01 am
New Year’s Resolution: Consult a lawyer
Death happens. You’re going to die someday, but your copyrights will live on, probably for seventy years after your death. There are laws for distribution of assets when a person dies without a will, but these laws are inadequate for dealing with things like copyrights, which will need to be actively managed for decades, and which are not easily divided among an expanding pool of heirs. To protect your copyrights better, you need a will.
Your will can appoint a literary representative (and there is no other reliable method to have one appointed). Literary representatives are responsible for managing copyrights after the author’s death. He or she makes all the necessary business decisions, and then pays the income to the heirs. Without a literary representative, you can end up with heirs who are unable to work together, so the books go out of print, the author is forgotten, and no one gets any money.
Estate planning can also protect your digital after-life. This is an emerging field of law, dealing with a person’s social media presence. Accounts have already been frozen due to the owner’s death (there are reports of both email providers and Facebook doing this). Most of the cases so far have been situations where the heirs sued for access due to some personal interest in accessing social media accounts, but with time, there are bound to be cases where a small business owner dies, and the heirs are unable to retain control over the business website, email or social media content to continue the business.
You can imagine what a disaster it would be for an author’s heirs to be unable to interact with readers at the author’s official Facebook page, or to access a mailing list used to announce new releases by the author. If you’re self-published, there can be even more drastic problems if a retailer freezes a publishing account due to your death. It’s a relatively simple legal procedure to get the retailer to turn over any accrued income to the heirs, but far more complicated to get the retailer to keep the dead author’s books listed for sale. No one knows yet whether the retailers will reactivate the original listing, perhaps just changing the publisher name, or if they will insist that the heirs re-publish the book from scratch, with a new publisher account, new publication date, and newly uploaded cover and text. If the books are re-published, it’s likely that reviews and rankings will not be attached to the new version.
Even though there are more questions than answers about the digital after-life, a qualified estate planning professional should be able to offer some solutions that can protect your digital after-life. Make an appointment now for the new year!
Caveat: This post is intended to offer some general information, and is not intended as individual legal advice. Probate laws vary greatly from state to state and country to country. The one piece of advice I can offer is that you should consult a qualified professional in your jurisdiction, and alert the professional to your concerns about copyright management, literary representatives and protecting your digital afterlife, so that he or she can address the specifics of your individual circumstances.
Gin Jones is a licensed attorney with more than ten years’ experience in the general practice of law. You can read more about estate planning in her book, Estate Planning For Authors, and at thewritegin.blogspot.com, or you can hear her speak about estate planning at the RWA New England Chapter’s conference, May 2-3, 2014.