Author's New Year's Resolution: Estate Planning by Manning Wolfe
Recently, Bill, my mate, and I were sharing our passwords, bank account logins, etc. and double checking our wills. When we originally wrote those wills, neither of us had a book published. Now, we both have several. We needed to incorporate the new intellectual copyright asset(s) into our estate disposition plan.
The second book in my series, Music Notes: Texas Lady Lawyer vs. L.A. Baron centers on the probate of the estate of Liam Nolan, a down and out musician with a seemingly worthless song portfolio. Liam dies before he is able to finalize his will. The estate becomes more valuable due to renewed interest by a younger generation of music lovers. Liam’s prior manager, L.A. Baron vies for the estate. Baron puts heroine Merit Bridges under a microscope and goes after her life and livelihood as she tries to defend Liam’s last wishes.
While Music Notes tracks music copyrights, there are many parallels to book copyrights. The standard copyright for books is your life, plus seventy years (with exceptions). We all will obviously be gone before that seventy years has run out.
It’s easy to remedy this legacy issue – just decide who you want to have your book rights and put aspecific bequest in your will. If you don’t have that specific clause, the assets will go into what’s called your residual estate – the “anything left” basket. If you are comfortable with your book assets going to the people who split what’s left after all specific bequests are satisfied, no need to modify your will.
How does the beneficiary or beneficiaries know what you have and how to claim it? If you are prolific, it may take quite a bit of sorting to figure out what rights you have and where they are. Hence, the dreaded spreadsheet, a list of your copyrights, where each book is published, if an agent or publisher has a percentage, etc.
You are probably receiving payments with breakdowns of the rights contained in the associated reporting. Putting that information into a spreadsheet, or computer folder and sending it to your executor or future heir is imperative. If you are absolutely averse to typing up a spreadsheet, put a printed copy of each report in a file folder and label it “Book Rights”. At least your heirs will have a place to start following the trail for each of the assets.
A final letter could also be used to indicate your wishes and list assets which may not be itemized in a will, although a letter is more of a request than a directive. Adding Dropbox login in formation to the letter and having the covers and manuscripts organized online could also be helpful. The parts of your novels can easily be dragged and dropped into a few well labeled files online.
The advantage of any of these information methods is that they can be updated regularly without the expense of re-visiting an attorney to add a codicil to a will. Having this information will save hundreds if not thousands of dollars in attorney and probate fees. Also, it will insure that nothing is missed in the sorting out process. If there is no paper trail to a certain book, that asset could disappear.
Once the probate is filed, letters testamentary will be issued by the court. The heir or attorney will send the document to Amazon, iBooks, publishing house, agent, etc. This notification allows the heir to receive continued payments from the issuer.
What if the value of the book right now is so low as to be of little concern? Think of the many examples you’ve read about when books were discovered after an author’s death, or books were made into films or televisions shows.
The most valuable part of the whole process of organizing your intellectual property assets may be peace of mind - for you, and your loved ones.
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MANNING WOLFE an author and attorney residing in Austin, Texas, writes cinematic-style, smart, fast-paced thrillers with a salting of Texas bullshit. The first in her series, featuring Austin Lawyer Merit Bridges, was Dollar Signs: Texas Lady Lawyer vs Boots King. Her newest book is Music Notes: Texas Lady Lawyer vs. L.A. Baron.
A graduate of Rice University and the University of Texas School of Law, Manning’s experience has given her a voyeur’s peek into some shady characters’ lives and a front row seat to watch the good people who stand against them.
www.manningwolfe.com | Twitter: @manningwolfe