Inheritance and Intellectual Property

I had a bit of surgery last month. It wasn't anything to worry about. However, anytime I've had to have anesthesia, thoughts of my last will and testament pop into my head. So I thought I'd talk a little about the issue of wills and inheritance and writers.

(This article previously appeared in Writing Hacks, my free subscription newsletter for Writers.)

Inheritance and Intellectual Property

Dying without a will leaves a mess for your heirs. Please, see a lawyer and have a will drawn up even if you think you have little in the way of an estate.

If you're a writer who is publishing, either with traditional publishers or as an independent author, you DO have an estate. Your estate is made up of Intellectual Property which is an asset that is inheritable. So you need to designate someone to inherit your intellectual property and all associated rights.

Tips to Help You Get Started

1. Make a list of all of your published books, completed but unpublished works, and articles. Yes, articles too. If you publish a blog, your rights in that intellectual property are worth something. Your heirs could compile a "best of" volume of your posts and publish them. For today's discussion, we'll focus on books though.

2. Create a folder for each work containing all materials associated with that book. These items should include:

(a) Cover sheet with all dates in chronological order. (Date you began the work, completed the work, publishing contract date, Copyright Date, Date of First Publication, any other publication dates like sub-rights deals and contracts, Date of Rights Reversion, etc. For indie published works, the above plus when you published on which platform, ISBN assigned date, etc.)

(b) Copy of all publishing contracts, Letters of Reversion.

(c) Easy to understand instructions for your heirs on the value of your Intellectual Property and what to do with the Property upon your death. You might also include a simple guide to informing the publishers/self-publishing platforms and arranging for funds to be paid to the heir.

(d) Easy to understand instructions on how to market the rights in the future.

3. Once you've got all this set up, make a list of a comprehensive list of each work, rights owned, rights that may be licensed and when they expire, and discuss this with your intended heir.

4. You will also give this comprehensive list to your attorney for inclusion in your will. Most attorneys know little about Intellectual Property so don't depend on them to catalog your Intellectual Property appropriately or even to know what constitutes Intellectual Property.

Takeaway Truth

Making the inventory and setting up all pertinent documents in each work file is the toughest part. The plus side to this is you'll have all your files organized for the future.

Post Script

The holidays are coming. Wouldn't you love to give your writer friends a special gift? If you need a gift for a writer--or a promotional item--visit my CafePress shop, WriteWay.

One of the most popular items in my shop is the Writer's Christmas Ornament -- use this direct link, and the prices in the shop are less than if you search for the item in the CafePress Marketplace.

The ornament is available in several shapes. The one shown is Snowflake.

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