Do I Need A Literary Executor?

Today’s Wednesday post takes a closer look at how to choose an executor (or trustee) to manage your copyrights and other intellectual property after death.

After your death, your copyrights will be owned by your heirs or beneficiaries. These are the people who inherit the right to ownership of and to enjoy the financial benefits of your work.

Unless you appoint a separate executor or literary trustee to manage your works on an ongoing basis, your heirs will also inherit the right to control and manage your creative works.

If you would like for one person (or set of people) to benefit from the works, but for someone else to handle the business issues (e.g., publishing contracts and rights management), then your will or trust needs to name a literary executor or literary trustee.

You can name one executor (or trustee, in the case of a trust) for all estate purposes, or you can name a general executor (or trustee) to handle the other parts of your estate and a separate literary executor (or trustee) whose responsibility covers only your literary and creative works. If you have a large body of works to manage, this may be the smarter choice – especially if many of those works are published and/or under contract for publication in various formats.

The general executor (or trustee, in the case of a trust) handles standard estate issues – distribution of money and personal property, probate proceedings and/or trust administration. The literary executor handles the intellectual property issues only.

While the general executor’s job may be finished in about a year, the literary executor may continue to manage creative works on behalf of the author’s estate until the end of the copyright term.

The larger the author’s literary estate, the more sense it makes to appoint a literary executor. Even with small estates, however, it makes sense to appoint someone to manage copyrights and other intellectual property, especially if the estate plan splits ownership and/or the financial benefits between a number of heirs. Appointing a literary executor can prevent disputes, streamline administration, and facilitate the copyright permissions process after the author’s death.

Next week, we’ll take a closer look at the process of choosing the right person to act as your literary executor.

Have questions about this or other copyright legal topics? Feel free to ask in the comments or tweet me (@SusanSpann) using the #PubLaw hashtag!