My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Matt Buchman is one of the most organized, business-oriented writers I know. He was one of the instructors at the Publishing Master Class I took last October, and he talked a bit then about estate planning for writers. He was working on this book at the time, and I eagerly preordered a copy. It came out just a few days ago, and it's got me adding line items to my to-do list like crazy.
If you're a writer, or in any other profession where you're creating and holding the rights to IP, you need to read this book. The full title is Estate Planning for Authors: Your Final Letter (and why you need to write it now). It's not just about how you need a will (although you do), but rather it's about how to organize your business so someone else can pick it up when you're gone, and how to write a letter to your heir(s) so they can find what they need, learn what they need to know, and manage your IP estate without cussing you out, or giving up in disgust and letting your IP go dormant and fade from the public eye because straightening out the tangle is (in their opinion) more work than it's worth. Seriously, your heirs will be delighted if you read this book, and leave them a copy along with your will, your final letter, and all your files.
PART I: Getting Started
PART II: IMPORTANT TERMS
PART III: Managing the IP
PART IV: Where's the Money?
PART V: Organizing It All
PART VI: The Final Letter
THE FINAL LETTER
PART VII: A Plan of Action
PART VIII: Suggested Reading (for the author, not so much for the heir)
One of the first pages, right after the dedication, is a section called, "Purpose of this book." It says:
Your Will states who gets what.
Your Final Letter tells them what they can, and should, do with it once they have it.
This book is about the second bit. It suggests a method to write a "Final Letter" that will organize your literary estate and educate your heirs. Or, if the creator behind the estate didn't write one, this book can act as a guide for their heirs to understand what options exist to manage a literary estate.
That's the point of this book -- helping your heirs figure out what this whole writing/publishing thing is about, what they've just inherited, where it all is, and what to do with it. The book addresses different situations, from an average writer passing their books and stories down directly to their kid, to a much busier writer who owns multiple corporations and sets up a charitable trust.
You won't find step-by-step details in how to do something like set up a trust, but you'll find basic info on what the options are, why you might want to make a particular choice, and what kind of professional (CPA, IP attorney, that sort of person) to consult about it.
There are also examples of what happened in various real life cases, such as how Elvis Presley left a soon-to-be bankrupt estate and what his ex, Priscilla, did to turn that around. Or how Jane Austen's heirs sold all the copyrights to her novels for the price of 250 hardcover copies of her books, because they had no clue what they had or what it was worth.
I particularly like the story of Lucia Berlin, a short story writer who never made much money while she was alive. After her death, her heirs put together a collection of her short stories, which was published and hit the New York Times Bestseller List.
How many of you reading this are writers who think your work isn't worth much, financially? Lucia Berlin probably thought the same thing. Luckily her heirs were smart enough to manage her IP well and not only make some money from it, but get Ms. Berlin's stories in front of a huge new audience.
Getting organized and preparing your IP and your business to be handed over to your heirs, with enough information for them to hit the ground running, will make it much more likely that they'll pick up your work and keep it in print, keep it refreshed, look for new markets, new formats, new opportunities. Matt talks about organizing your computer files, including back-ups and off-site storage, managing your passwords and safely passing them down to your heirs, and keeping your contracts and tax paperwork organized and filed and findable. There's a lot of very practical info here. And a nice bonus is that once things are organized enough for your heirs to step right in and find everything, it'll also be organized enough for you to always be able to lay hands on whatever you want, right when you want it. Not that I ever have that problem [cough] but you know, in case anyone out there reading does. [wry smile]
While talking about multiple options, Matt centers his examples on his own estate planning, how he's organized his business, and prepared information and files and passwords and accounts for his heirs to take over. Matt is a very busy writer who has set up corporations for tax purposes, and has decided to create a living trust for his heirs. All the research he's done -- all along, for the business structures, and recently when planning his estate -- has filtered into this book.
Part VI contains his actual Final Letter, with specifics like [the names of actual banks and lawyers and accountants] noted out. You could absolutely take this letter as an example, pretty much verbatim, and tweak it to apply to your own IP and estate decisions. He's also included, in Part V, a link to a page on his web site with a downloadable Excel starter file. This is a skeleton copy of the master file he uses to track his own books and stories. It's a great organizational tool for your own use, aside from how wonderfully useful it would be for your heirs.
If you can't tell, I'm pretty enthusiastic about this book. It's short, it's clear, and it's a gold mine of valuable info and resources. If you've ever published anything, if you own any IP, you should read this book. And get a copy for each of your heirs; if you get hit by a bus before you can write your Final Letter, at least it'll give them a leg up on figuring out what the heck it is you've left them and what they should do with it.