How to Choose a Literary Executor

Hey, all just a quick update: The person who won an LWA online class is ——- Selena Fulton  CONGRATULATIONS !!!! Please email Margie::::: address is:  margie (at) margielawson(dot) com

Sorry to step in, Susan – go for it!

by Susan Spann

Last month’s #PubLaw guest post on WITS asked the question “Do you Need a Literary Executor?

This month we’re following up with a look at how to choose one—which an author needs to know how to do, even if the estate isn’t large or complex enough to require a separate literary executor.

Here’s why:

If the estate is large or complicated enough to merit a separate executor (or trustee, in the case of a trust) to manage the literary works, it’s important to choose a qualified person to fill that role.

If the estate doesn’t need a separate literary executor or trustee, the general executor will have to manage both the standard estate and distribution of the author’s intellectual property. That means the general executor needs the basic skills of a literary executor to fulfill the dual role.

In other words: regardless of the size of your estate, you need to make sure the person handling your intellectual property rights is qualified to act as a literary executor or trustee.

This is particularly true where the author’s will or trust splits ownership and/or the financial benefits of creative works between two or more heirs. Appointing a qualified literary executor helps prevent disputes, streamline administration, and facilitate the transfer and management of intellectual property rights after the author’s death.

Some points to consider when choosing a literary executor:

1. Pick someone familiar with solid business skills and familiarity with the publishing industry.

A general attorney may not have much familiarity with publishing contracts and intellectual property issues. Family members may not have the business skills required to handle your intellectual property rights effectively.

Picking someone who understands publishing helps minimize costs and conflicts, and also maximizes the benefits from your works. This is true whether or not the literary executor will manage the works long-term or merely supervise collection and distribution to your heirs.

2. Select an executor young enough to survive you and still be young enough to manage your copyrights. Also, name at least one secondary choice.

Most copyrights last for 70 years after the author’s death – so it’s a good idea to select a literary executor young enough to serve a substantial part of that time. This often means picking someone younger than you (or changing your choice as you age). Remember: you can always amend a will or trust to change the executor’s name without having to rewrite or revise the rest of the document. The amendment is called a “codicil” in the case of a will and an “amendment” in the case of a trust.

3. Provide for a successor executor – or a method for choosing one.

Since your copyrights may outlive your selected executor’s career, your estate planning documents should name a successor literary executor or include the method for choosing one. Common methods include the majority choice of your heirs, selection by the attorney administering your will or trust, and arranging for a court-appointed successor.

Other methods are permitted, too. You may want to consult a local estate planning attorney to learn more about your options.

4. Select someone with patience and good communication skills.

In addition to negotiating contracts and managing copyrights, the literary executor will need to communicate with your heirs – the people who will receive the financial benefits of your literary estate. Select a literary executor who communicates clearly and effectively – someone who solves problems rather than creating them.

5. If possible pick someone who gets along with your heirs, particularly if the literary executor will need to serve for an extended time.

Never underestimate the value of cooperation. Your literary executor may need to work with your heirs for many years. That process is always easier when personalities mesh.

This isn’t an all-encompassing list of the factors you’ll need to consider, but it’s enough to get you started on the road.

Remember to consult a licensed attorney in your state or country to ensure your estate planning documents comply with local law and to ensure that you know about any local rules governing the selection of executors and trustees.

Thank you for joining me for today’s #PubLaw guest post on literary executors! We’ll continue our Authors’ Estate Planning series next month – I look forward to seeing you then! And remember, if you have questions about this or any other topic related to publishing law or authors’ estate planning issues, please feel free to ask in the comments. I love to hear from you.

About Susan

susanspannSusan Spann is a publishing attorney and author from Sacramento, California.

Her debut mystery novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Thomas Dunne Books, July 2013), Claws of the Cat Coveris the first in a series featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori. Susan blogs about writing, publishing law and seahorses at http://www.SusanSpann.com. Find her on Twitter @SusanSpann or on Facebook.

About LauraDrake

Author of romance and women's fiction. Grand Central and Harlequin author, debut book, The Sweet Spot, due out May 28.
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9 Responses to How to Choose a Literary Executor

  1. Jenny Hansen says:

    I love these posts, Susan! They allow me to think about the important stuff without getting overwhelmed.🙂

    • Susan Spann says:

      Thanks Jenny! I’m glad I can help by bringing the issues up early. Getting the information in manageable chunks always works better for me too.

      • Jenny Hansen says:

        Yep, the hubs knows he’s got about 20 minutes to talk about “scary shit” before I start whimpering. You got your scary stuff into my brain in half that time!🙂

  2. Laura Drake says:

    Susan, thanks for continuing this series – I’m following your advice of every one, step by step!

  3. Susan, what’s really important is that no matter when any of this is needed, we have the whole nut in the shell of WITS. Thanks for another addition to this series🙂

    BTW Congrats on the book launch !!

    • Susan Spann says:

      Thanks Florence!

      One beautiful thing about blog posts is that they do create lovely archives for people seeking information. I love speaking to groups, but in some ways I think blogging is more useful for exactly that reason. I love both, though, so I’m glad I have both kinds of opportunities.

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