Where Are the Things? Literary Estate Documentation

Once you have chosen an executor and written (and signed!) your will or trust, your estate planning job isn’t finished.

An author usually knows where his or her work is located and/or sold, and who controls the publishing rights.

But do your heirs know?

If “the bus of destiny” ran over you tomorrow, would the people responsible for your estate know who to call or where to find your works?

Would they even be able to access your unread email?

Authors must have an estate plan, but they also need A List Of All The Things: the names, contact information and passwords which will grant an executor access to the author’s works and also the relevant websites, blogs, and social media accounts. If that information isn’t available, it may take months for your estate to take control of your assets – assuming your heirs can even find them all.

The list should be created and kept in a very secure location – fireproof safes and safe deposit boxes are good choices – because it contains private, sensitive information.

The list should contain four sections:

1. Publishers and other important contacts. This list contains the names and contact information (at a minimum, telephone and/or email) of any or all of the following which are relevant to the author’s situation:  publishers (or printer/distributors) with rights to the author’s works, agents (literary and film, foreign and domestic), publicists, editors (independent and/or affiliated with a publisher), critique group partners and the contacts for any third-party websites where the author guest blogs on a regular basis.

The contact list should also include anyone and everyone with a business need to know if the author passes away. Notifying these individuals of your passing becomes much more difficult if your heirs don’t have a detailed list to follow. And remember: the list should also describe, if briefly, what each of these people does on your behalf.

2. Passwords and account information. In an author’s estate plan, this means more than bank accounts and PINs: your heirs will need access to all of your social media, websites, blogs, and every other account-based service you use as part of your writing life. That means everything from Facebook and Twitter to Amazon. Keep the information SECURE – but leave a note that tells your heirs where to find it when you’re gone.

3. Status and location of works. Who publishes your work in Argentina? Is your work for sale on Amazon Japan? You may know, but your family probably doesn’t. Make a list and keep it up to date.

4. Intellectual Property documentation. This includes everything from contracts and license agreements to copyright and trademark registrations. If you use photocopies here, make sure to include a note disclosing the location of the originals.

There may be other items you want to add – and the list can change to meet an author’s individual needs and situation. The important thing is having a thorough list. Your heirs – and your executor – will thank you for saving them lots of time and trouble.

Have questions about this or any other publishing legal issues? Please feel free to ask in the comments or tweet me @SusanSpann, using the #PubLaw hashtag!