Author Estate Planning: Nuts, Bolts, and Bequests

Welcome back to our continuing series on author estate planning. Today we begin our look at the nuts and bolts of bequeathing copyrights and other intellectual property rights in a will or trust.

The distributive language (meaning the language which grants property or other assets to someone in a will or trust) differs slightly depending on whether an author is using a will or a trust. This is because a will is administered through probate, whereas a trust is usually administered by a Trustee without court supervision.

In a will, the author doesn’t need to address who controls the copyrights during the author’s lifetime because the will only becomes operative after the author’s death.

The language for distribution of copyrights in a will might read like this:

Copyrights and Intellectual Property.  I hereby will, give, devise and bequeath all of my right, title and interest in and to all copyrights and other intellectual property owned by me at the time of my death, including without limitation all published and unpublished works of fiction and non-fiction, to [name of beneficiary]. If [name of beneficiary] predeceases me all gifts, devises and bequests to [name of beneficiary] will automatically pass to [name of backup beneficiary].

The operative points to remember are:

1. Use granting language: “will, give, devise and bequeath” (or whatever variation your state requires). This is the language that actually makes the gift.

2. Describe what is granted: “all of my right, title and interest in and to all copyrights and other intellectual property owned by me at the time of my death” – remember to cast the net broadly and include all intellectual property, not just copyrights.

3. Include published and unpublished works. You never know what your heirs may do with the unpublished works after your death.

4. You don’t have to leave all copyrights to a single person. If you want to split up the rights, you’ll need a separate, specific grant for each work and beneficiary to whom you want to leave specific rights.

Remember: make sure your will complies with the legal requirements in your state, country, or territory. This language may require modification to meet the specific requirements where you live.

Have questions about this or other author-specific estate planning issues? Feel free to ask in the comments!

2 thoughts on “Author Estate Planning: Nuts, Bolts, and Bequests

  • April 4, 2013 at 6:52 pm

    Susan, thanks so much for this estate planning series.
    Very helpful.

    • April 8, 2013 at 2:09 pm

      Thank you Ann! I’m truly glad it’s helpful. This information can be hard to find, and I’m glad I can help get it out where people can see it.

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