Musicians, artists, writers, photographers and other creative types often miss an opportunity to have a say in what happens with their work by overlooking estate planning. The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, who died of pancreatic cancer Aug. 16, did not complete a will or trust even though her entertainment lawyer spent several years recommending that she set up a trust.
Dying without a will (intestate) requires probate and Colorado law decides inheritance issues. The value of an estate and any disputes among extended family members also become public. You can avoid this by planning for the future care of your work.
Management of a portfolio
First, create an inventory. Key locations, formats and contacts familiar with your work provide a starting point for a trusted personal representative tasked with managing your portfolio. Also, identify and detail the framework for royalty-generating work.
Finding the right person to manage this portfolio is an important decision. The person needs your trust, but also some knowledge of the industry. And leave instructions for incomplete works; what should happen with an unfinished screenplay or painting?
Second, think about the following questions: Would you want the public to have access to a vault of unreleased recordings? Are there any works you want donated rather than sold?
This can tie in with your preference for generating money for family or ensuring public accessibility to your work. Depending on the size of your estate, the needs of family members and the value of a copyright in an image, you may prefer to direct profits to a charitable cause.
Your estate plan can guide decisions. It is a road map that avoids the need to guesstimate your wishes.
Extended ‘life span’
Third, consider that works or rights to your works – for example, a stage adaptation of a novel – may be of interest beyond the lifetime of the person named to manage your portfolio. Establishing a trust may be the solution, depending on your wishes.
As the years pass, time has a way of accelerating. It’s crucial to start estate planning conversations if you have created a valuable portfolio over your lifetime. Protect your family members by sharing your wishes, so they do not have to fight over what they think you would have wanted.