I’ve been thinking about both of these things lately. Taxes, because I still haven’t finished mine, and Death…
My Dad passed in February and death has never been closer to me as I finish wrapping up his affairs and filling out the final paperwork that governed his life’s end. I’ve sent out subscription cancellation notices, paid the last of his bills, and turned over the last of his possessions.
It makes you stop and think about what we leave behind. And it’s been a wake up call for me regarding my last will and testament. As an author, I have a new set of assets that have to be included in my last wishes.
When you write a book in the United States, the author registers the copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office and then they own the rights to their own creation for their entire lifetime plus seventy (70) years.
This predisposes the fact that your works will live on without you.
It’s a sobering thought. Your books truly are like your children in this sense. You have to make arrangements for them, how they’ll be taken care of, who will manage them, who will benefit from them, etc. after you die. The state where you reside at the time of death, may even have a law that if you don’t mention a copyright in your will to go to a designated heir, then the state becomes their owner. Your work could become the property of the government if you make no provisions and do not have a will.
For that reason, some authors designate (in addition to a regular executor) a literary executor in their will. The literary executor’s job is solely to license your literary works, make the best decisions for them, so that they continue to earn royalties and income for your heirs. Remember, unlike physical property like your car, your house, and your money, the written word is a powerful intangible property that can earn income, represent you, and even touch people’s lives long after you have passed.
So what does an author need to do? First have a will. In that will name heirs to receive the benefit of your books and appoint a literary executor to oversee it. And then you’ll need a list of your copyrights and publishers with their contact information. And it will need to be kept up to date with every new book you write. Your heirs will need this information if they are to collect and manage your creative works.
And then…smile to know that your work will live on and be loved after you.