Counting the Duties – and Costs – of a Literary Executor

Welcome back to our continuing Wednesday series on literary executors.

Although a general executor can handle the author’s entire estate, including literary issues, authors who name or arrange for a specific literary executor should be aware that literary executors (or trustees) manage only the author’s literary estate. This includes:

1. Copyrights and other intellectual property rights (including print and e-book, film, TV, and stage adaptations).

2. Managing publishing contracts and licenses in force at the time of the author’s death.

3. Derivative works licensing (mainly for sequels and/or formats not exploited during the author’s lifetime).

4. Collection of royalties.

5. Supervision and policing of the author’s literary estate, including litigation to stop infringement or illegal use of rights.

As you can see, this isn’t a “one-time” event – it’s an ongoing job – and most literary executors are paid an ongoing fee for performing the service. Although a family member may be willing to act as your literary executor “free of charge” (though usually only if he or she is also an heir to part or all of the copyrights), it’s important to note that family members often lack the business knowledge critical to the literary executor’s role.

A third-party, professional literary executor will charge an ongoing fee which may or may not be based on the royalties generated by the estate. At a minimum, an attorney performing this service will require an hourly fee for time spent managing the estate. In either case, the costs of hiring a literary executor for ongoing management should be weighed against the value of the author’s estate and the intricacies of its management.

For small estates, a family member may be the best option, with a literary attorney on hourly retainer for contract negotiation, review, and drafting when necessary. Larger estates, which require more constant management, may justify the expense of professional management.

In either case, it’s wise for the author to investigate the costs in advance and make the decision best-suited to profitable management of the author’s own literary estate.

Have questions about this or other estate planning questions? Feel free to ask in the comments – or tweet me @SusanSpann, using the #PubLaw hashtag!