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Literary Estates & Literary Executors

The literary estate of a deceased author consists mainly of the copyright and other intellectual property rights of published works, including film, translation rights, original manuscripts of published work, unpublished or partially completed work, and papers of intrinsic literary interest such as correspondence or personal diaries and records.

A literary executor is a person acting on behalf of beneficiaries (e.g. family members, a designated charity, a research library or archive) under the author's will. The executor is responsible for entering into contracts with publishers, collecting royalties, maintaining copyrights, and (where appropriate) arranging for the deposit of letters.

It should be noted that will can appoint different executors to deal with different parts of the estate. A literary executor would be someone who is specifically designated to deal with (and only with) the deceased's literary effects assets.

Since the literary estate is a legacy to the author's heirs, the management of it in financial terms is a responsibility of trust. The position of literary executor extends beyond the monetary aspect, though: appointment to such a position, perhaps informally, is often a matter of the author's choice during his or her lifetime.

If a sympathetic and understanding friend is in the position of literary executor, there can be conflict: what is to be managed is not just a portfolio of intellectual property but a posthumous reputation. Wishes of the deceased author may have been clearly expressed but are not always respected. Family members often express strong feelings about privacy of the dead.

The above (taken from Wikipedia) is a good legal definition of what a literary estate is and the role of a literary executor.

Here is a link to on-line informational and other resources that are thematically relevant to literary executors:

Every author, especially those who make their living with what they write, should have a designated literary executor that will manage their literary estate to the maximum benefit of their heirs -- and their literary legacy.

James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive
Oregon, WI 53575-1129
phone: 1-608-835-7937

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