Thursday, April 24, 2008

Intellectual Property Estates

I frequently get asked if I know any lawyers who can write a will for writers. That's because writers, like all visual artists, have an interest in seeing their intellectual property properly disposed of after death. It is not an area of the law in which I practice. Wills and trusts is an ancient and archaic area of the law and was my worst grade in law school (probably because the class was on a Friday afternoon for an ungodly number of hours and I could barely stay awake.) Lucky for me, it wasn't on the California Bar Exam except perhaps with some reference to community property, which I do grasp (no pun intended.)

My friend Neil Gaiman is on a crusade to make sure all writers have wills, because several other writers of both of our acquaintances failed to to do so (you can read the entire post here.) In both of those cases, the writers were not in good health for enough time to have taken care of the matter and didn't. Neil asked a lawyer friend of his, Les Klinger, to draw up a sample will, which he encourages people to pass on, so I will. You can find the PDF here. These are the suggestions Mr. Klinger makes:

1) Recopy the document ENTIRELY by hand, date it, and sign it at the end. No witnesses required.

2) Type the document, date it, sign it IN FRONT OF at least two witnesses, who are not family or named in the Will, and have each witness sign IN FRONT OF YOU and the other witnesses. Better yet, go to a lawyer with this form and discuss your choices!

California does recognize holographic wills--my husband and I both have them, although getting Len's through probate may wind up being pretty strange. Not all states do, however. The best advice is to take the draft to your own attorney and modify it to best fit your own situation. Most local bar associations can make referrals to specialists and the local version of the Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts is a good place to check as well.

Photographers are no less in need of wills to handle their photographic estates than writers are theirs. Photographs can have enormous historic value and it is a good idea to have someone in charge who knows what to do with them if your significant other or children don't. None of us knows what tomorrow brings, so don't be foolish. Get it done.

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