Choosing the Right Literary Executor

Today we continue our estate planning workshop with a look at choosing the right literary executor.

Although your general executor (or, in the case of a trust, trustee) can also handle intellectual property and copyrights as well as standard probate issues, many authors – especially those with significant numbers of works in print – may want to consider appointing literary executor to handle the intellectual property portion of the author’s estate.

Some points to consider when choosing a literary executor:

1. Pick someone familiar with business, and the publishing industry in particular. A general attorney may not have much familiarity with publishing contracts and intellectual property issues. Your family members, while loving, may not have the business skills required to handle your copyrights effectively. Picking someone who understands publishing will help your heirs minimize costs and conflicts and maximize the benefits of your works.

2. Select an executor young enough to survive your copyrights, and have a secondary choice in mind. Most copyrights last for 70 years after the author’s death – so it’s a good idea to select a literary executor young enough to serve a substantial part of that time.

3. Provide for a successor executor – or a method for choosing one. Since your copyrights may outlive your selected executor’s career, your estate planning documents should name a successor literary executor or include the method for choosing one. Common methods include the majority choice of your heirs, selection by the attorney administering your will or trust, and arranging for a court-appointed successor. Other methods are permitted, too. You may want to consult a local estate planning attorney to learn about your options.

4. Select someone with patience and good communication skills. In addition to negotiating contracts and managing copyrights, the literary executor will need to communicate with your heirs – the people who will receive the financial benefits of your literary estate. Select a literary executor who communicates clearly and effectively – someone who solves problems rather than creating them.

Tune in next week, when we’ll take a look at literary executors’ specific duties and the fees your estate may need to pay for the service.

Have questions about this or other publishing law issues? Please feel free to ask in the comments!

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