I count several authors among my clients. One has published many works in her area of expertise. Another no longer writes, but enjoys a large income from royalties. And another is getting his break through self and online publishing. All have concerns about their intellectual property and the future of the efforts.
Focus on Smooth Succession
Estate planning for authors isn’t so different than estate planning for anyone else so long as you consider the whole purpose behind it: smooth succession after you’re gone. Consider how your chosen heir will be able to best control and benefit from your assets upon your passing. Often the premier tool to achieve this end is a revocable trust because unlike people, a trust doesn’t die. When you title your property in a trust you maintain control as trustee and beneficiary, but you will also name successors who will control the asset (the trustee) and benefit from it (the beneficiary). Once the trust is in place you’ll need to title or assign your copyrights and other intellectual property to it. You will also want to ensure royalties are payable to the trust rather than you. As long as you’re alive your authority and access isn’t impacted, but you can rest assured that your heirs will retain the benefits of your effort and talent.
A Trust isn’t the Only Option
Depending on your budget and jurisdiction an even simpler route could be using a limited liability company (LLC) in conjunction with a simple will. Just as you would with a trust, you will retain control and access to the LLC. You will place your assets there and name a beneficiary and executor in your last will and testament which will serve to determine who receives access to the LLC upon your death. For digital and self-publishers, smooth succession may be as simple as ensuring your chosen heirs have your online user IDs and passwords. However title (meaning authority to manage and benefit from such work) will still remain in your name unless you create or shift such accounts into the trust or LLC.
Organization is Always the Most Critical Principle
Successful estate planning for anyone relies heavily on organization. So in addition to considering how your heirs will succeed to your work, you need to ensure they know what they’re succeeding to. Maintain a list or spreadsheet showing your works, where to find them (e.g. publishers, online, on your hard drive, etc.), whether they’re copyrighted and registered, any pseudonyms, online access, etc. This exercise will not only make it easier on them, but help you in your effort for smooth succession.