Anyone who has been reading this blog (or my non-fiction publishing guides) for a while knows about my sales background. I’ve worked in various positions—mainly print advertising sales—over the years while building my authorship on the side. After being laid off from one of those common jobs, I was certified to sell prepaid funeral and cemetery services. I did that for a short time. Now, some of you may find that career path a bit odd or morbid. But I have to say it was an eye-opening education for me. I’m so glad I did it, because I learned so much. It is so important for everyone to have an estate planning checklist completed for the family members they leave behind. It is equally—if not more—important for authors to plan ahead in this way.
The Standard Estate Planning Checklist for Everyone
When a loved one passes away, there are so many decisions to make and things for family members to do. If it’s a sudden passing and that person didn’t leave any instructions regarding his or her wishes, it can be especially traumatic. Unexpected upfront funeral and cemetery expenses can leave family members strapped for cash. They may have difficulties locating important banking or insurance information to cover those expenses. They may be unaware of who all to invite to the celebration of life. The list goes on, so it makes sense to plan ahead. In the very least, everyone should take care of the following three details and let family members know where to find them:
- Draft a will that includes who will be named the executor, beneficiary, and trustee/legal guardian (if young children are left behind) of your estate. It is also wise to stipulate a power of attorney in the event you are disabled in any way that prevents you from making decisions for yourself while still alive.
- Attach a list of employment, mortgage, banking, and insurance contact information that is easy for family members to follow.
- A contact list of those who should be called to attend your life celebration is also great to include. This list is important even if you aren’t preplanning/prepaying your own funeral and cemetery arrangements. It can make things a lot easier for your loved ones to ensure everyone you cared about is aware of your passing.
An Author’s Estate Planning Checklist
Authors have another important list to include with their wills: all your titles in publication. It’s wise to include where you published each title through (e.g., the name of the publishing house, distributor, or ecommerce site). It’s also important to include all possible editions (e.g., paperbacks, hardcovers, ebooks, audiobooks) and any contracts you have in place for subsidiary rights.
Why are these things important? M.L. Buchman explains it well in his book Estate Planning For Authors: Your Final Letter (and why you need to write it now) (Strategies for Success) (Volume 2). One important take-away is this: your book’s copyright outlives you by 50 years in Canada, 70 years in the United States. Did you know that? Assuming you self-published and retained 100% of your book’s copyright ownership, this means your estate will still be paid royalties for ongoing sales. Your beneficiaries could still potentially earn a living from your work many years after you pass on. So, you will want to give them instructions regarding how you want your intellectual property managed after you’re gone. I recommend picking up a copy of M.L. Buchman’s book for more details on how to go about this. It’s important, not only for you but for your loved ones.
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