Another blog post, another title that is total clickbait. Chase Connor is here for the clicks, my friends!
Seriously, though, this blog post was inspired by a question asked by a reader I’ve exchanged emails with for several months. It was a question that, when answered, would be helpful to other writers and interesting to readers.
What happens when a published author dies? Especially an LGBTQ+ author? Does some homophobic next of kin get to claim their future royalties?
Eventually, we all die. Right? I mean, unless you have some secret deal with Satan, I guess. Having no such deal with Lucifer myself, so this was an eventuality for which I’ve always been prepared. Of course, it never occurred to me that other writers might not be–and readers might not have even though about it. Not everyone is as morbid as me. Not everyone spends their days thinking about the day the writing ends.
But my reader/email buddy/friend made me realize that maybe this question needs to be answered publicly. Some people are queasy about asking this question. I don’t blame them. No writer wants to think about not ever writing again and not many people care to think about their mortality.
So, leave it to my morbid, over-prepared ass to drop some help in your lap.
How you publish is the first thing we have to consider. Are you self-published? Indie? Traditional?
If you’re self-published, the answer is a little more complicated because the work that has to be done upon your death is a little more extensive. Let’s start with our self-pubbed writers.
Before I fully begin, take everything I say with a grain of salt until you consult with a lawyer. How to handle your intellectual property upon your death may vary greatly depending upon where you live in the world.
Self-published writers need to immediately get to work on their Last Will & Testament. Now, laws vary state to state, country to country, province to province, so it might be best to work with an intellectual property lawyer when drafting your LWT if you are a creative leaving behind work that will likely continue to generate income. In some areas, your spouse may automatically get everything you own regardless of what your will says. Some areas may allow you to be a little loosey-goosey with your LWT. It just depends. However, consulting a lawyer as a creative with intellectual property when drafting your LWT is vital.
In your LWT, you can assign an executor to, well, execute the terms of your will. You will also indicate which person(s) receive(s) specific pieces of your property. The executor is to make sure this happens. Sometimes the executor is the person receiving all or some of your property, sometimes they are just an impartial third party that a person trusts to follow their wishes upon their death. But an executor will most likely have to be chosen in a lot of cases.
Once a person outlines who their executor is to be, who gets their property, and all other formalities they are instructed to complete by a lawyer, the LWT is witnessed, certified, filed, and so forth. The writer is now just waiting to die while they continue to write in an effort to create immortality through art.
Told you I’m morbid.
Upon the writer’s death, the executor will make sure that death certificates are obtained for the deceased–which prove the writer’s death actually occurred and they are no longer amongst the living–and then disbursement of property can begin.
But it can be a lengthy process that requires “legwork.”
Working together, the executor and the person receiving the property (unless they are one and the same), will reach out to all parties who publish/published the writer’s work (Amazon, IngramSpark, Lulu, etc.) and let them know the writer is dead. They will ask for that company’s specific guidelines on how to get future royalties transferred to the new intellectual property rights owner.
Usually, this is a certified letter with the executor/new intellectual property owner’s intentions, along with an original death certificate, and payment details for where future royalties should go.
The executor and new owner will want to keep the deceased’s bank accounts open until companies have indicated that the new payment information has been changed and all is clear. Just in case the next round of royalties come before the new payment information is processed. I would wait until at least one round of royalties have come through under the new owner’s account before moving forward.
This might take companies a while to do. It’s not their top priority.
The companies might even lose or misplace the first letter and death certificate. They may ask for more information. There may be a lot of hoops to jump through. It’s okay to expect this to be a simple, yet lengthy task, but be prepared for the worst.
However, once the new owner is now getting the royalties to their own account, the executor can close the deceased writer’s accounts and disburse any royalties in that account to the new owner.
The writer’s intellectual property income is now being received by the person of their choosing–or who the law dictates is the rightful new owner.
Now, let’s talk about indie and traditional pubbed authors.
Don’t skip the Last Will and Testament step. This is vital. However, you will also want to let your indie imprint or publisher know who your next of kin is and who you intend to receive your intellectual property rights upon your death.
Upon your death, the executor of your will can contact your imprint/publisher with the specifics of your will and a death certificate, find out what all information needs to be forwarded, and the imprint/publisher will make sure all future royalties go to the new owner of the intellectual property. Not to say that things can’t get mucked up, but usually, indie and traditionally published writers’ royalties are usually easier to transfer because there are less entities involved. The imprint or publisher is a buffer between the writer and the point of sales companies. It helps everyone avoid a lot of headaches.
It seems easy enough, right?
You write, you die, your intellectual property rights go to someone else.
Keep in mind that (in the U.S.) copyrights are good for the lifetime of the creator plus an additional 70 years. You can keep passing down intellectual property rights in perpetuity, but after the author’s lifetime plus 70 years, other people can start profiting off of it without breaking any laws.
While this post is not the most fun, I hope it has helped some of you and answered a lot of questions. Go write your Last Will and Testaments, creatives! Then get back to writing and waiting to die!
All the Morbid Love & Thanks,