Who Gets Your Book(s) When You Die? – Yet Another Case of Heirs Fighting Over an Author’s Copyrights

Ug! It happened again! We were contacted last week by a woman claiming to be the daughter of one of our authors. After logging into his author account, she posted a note, saying he’d died last month and she wanted his future royalty checks mailed to her. I checked the author’s contract and – UH OH. In the beneficiary clause, the author had assigned his copyrights, control of his author account, and all future royalties to someone else (a female friend / associate), not to his daughter.

I had the very uncomfortable task of not only letting his daughter know that her dad didn’t leave his book to her, but also of changing the password to the author’s account because he’d given control to the “friend.” Yes, I had to block the daughter from her dad’s author account. That made my stomach hurt. I then had to contact the beneficiary, and give her the new login info.

The daughter emailed me back, saying her dad was never married and that she was his only child. She also sent a copy of his death certificate, which didn’t help. I couldn’t do anything with. It certainly didn’t change the author’s wishes about his book. The daughter also contacted the father’s friend directly, and asked me for a copy of her father’s contract. I had to tell her that I’d provided the contract to the beneficiary and that she would need to try to obtain a copy from that person.

The next morning, there was an email in my box from the beneficiary saying she did indeed plan to keep the rights to the book for now and that she was going to carry on the author’s work. She said she might someday give the copyrights to an organization, or perhaps even the author’s daughter, but that she was keeping them for now. She instructed me not to give the daughter a copy of the contract.

Ick. What a mess…and one I do *not* want to be in the middle of. Can you imagine how nasty it could get if we didn’t have a beneficiary clause in our contract? We sure don’t want to pay OUR lawyers to discuss an author’s assets with warring siblings, spouses, ex-spouses, business associates and more.

So, what lesson can we all learn from this? If you plan to will your literary assets to non-family members, you might want to give those family members a head’s up ahead of time so they’re not surprised when they find out later. I really do feel sorry for the author’s daughter. I don’t know what the backstory is there but she clearly wasn’t expecting us to say her dad left his book to another.

For more information on this topic, please also read:

When An Author Dies, The Vultures Will Rise!

and

When Authors Die…What Happens To Their Books?



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About The Author

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Angela Hoy is the publisher of WritersWeekly.com, and the co-owner of BookLocker.com (one of the original POD publishers that still gets books to market in less than a month), PubPreppers.com (print and ebook design for authors who truly want to self-publish), and Abuzz Press (the publishing co-op that charges no setup fees).

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