Artists Have Unique Estate Planning Needs

While everyone should have an estate plan, artists are just one category that often have special estate planning needs.

Like everyone else, artists spend a lifetime building their estate. Unlike most others, artists can create a legacy in the music, books, and art they leave behind. Because of this, it is important for artists get legal advice that includes protecting their legacy for future generations.

Many artists have substantial success after their deaths. Elvis’s estate made more money after his death than before. Michael Jackson left an estate that included unreleased songs. Prince left a substantial estate with no will. Although these are large examples, they show that what an artist has created will provide substantial support for loved ones for many decades to follow. If the estate is not carefully crafted to determine who has creative control, there could be a dispute over who has the right to control the art.

In addition to determining who will profit from future distributions and publicity of the art works, there is also an issue about how it gets used. For example, some artists are protective about how their work is used. When John Lennon’s work was first used to promote Nike shoes, an uproar occurred because that song was the antithesis of commercialization. As a counter example, when a toy manufacturing company used the Beastie Boys’ song “Girls” in one of their promotional videos, the surviving members of the band were able to squash the use. The reason they gave was based on a promise given to Adam Yauch who died a few years earlier.

Artists need to make sure their estate plan includes a review of the artist’s portfolio of work, as well as the assets. The estate planner should take care to determine not just who gets to benefit from the work but how that work is to be used. In this way, the artist can leave behind more than just a bunch of assets. The artist can leave a legacy for the world to appreciate.

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