Last week, I exchanged a few notes via Facebook with an author. She had posted a link to my article from last week, Never, Ever Assume You Can Use a Deceased Person’s Work. She said she didn’t yet know who to leave her intellectual property to but that she knew who NOT to leave it to. She always makes me laugh!
Anyway, I responded by telling her that we added a “beneficiary clause” to our BookLocker.com contract several years ago after tiring of watching deceased authors’ heirs duke it out for copyrights and future royalties.
In one situation in particular, two relatives went to court over one of our author’s copyrights and it was a book with pretty low sales. Of course, we couldn’t share the sales numbers with either of them because the information was proprietary to the author and his legal heir, which he had failed to appoint. So, while we were waiting for the court to decide, we couldn’t share the book’s sales numbers with the author’s relatives because none of them had yet been appointed the rightful recipient of his copyrights.
Sadly, the relatives spent thousands in legal fees for a book neither one ended up wanting after they saw the low sales.
One author died and left her book to her child (who was an adult). We watched as the author’s writing friends tried to bully the daughter into giving up the rights to the book and she eventually agreed to do so, without receiving any compensation whatsoever. We advised her to hire an attorney but she just didn’t want to deal with it anymore.
One woman wrote in saying she was the niece of an author who had recently passed away and that, being his only surviving family member, he’d left everything to her. I checked his contract (thank goodness we’d added that beneficiary clause!) and he’d left his book to his wife, who was very much alive and well.
One author recently appointed her “editor” to be her legal heir. I thought that was odd and I contacted the author. She said she’d had the “editor” fill out the contract for her and she didn’t even know there was a beneficiary clause in it.
Still another elderly author added her “publishing consultant’s” name to the beneficiary box because she said the “consultant” had agreed to distribute her royalties to her children if she died. Of course, if the author does die, the consultant, under that contract clause, would be the beneficiary of that book and the relatives would need to fight her in court for it. I knew that author was being hoodwinked by an opportunist.
And, then there’s the story I’ve told here in the past about the man who contacted us saying his dad had died and that we needed to start sending the royalty checks to him instead. Of course, I checked it out and the author was alive and well and also shocked, saddened, and angry that his son tried to steal his royalties in that way.
I can’t even count how many times an author’s relatives have posed as the author in an attempt to try to gain access to the author’s account to see their royalty statement.
After publishing books for more than a decade, I’d like to say I’ve seen just about everything but I am still shocked by the lengths vultures (relatives) go to when an author dies…and even when they don’t! Save your rightful heir(s) a LOT of pain by appointing a beneficiary of your copyrights NOW. If you don’t, who knows who will benefit from your books later and who knows how much money your heir(s) might have to pay lawyers to wrestle back control of YOUR work.
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