A client recently asked me about literary executors and whether she needed one for her estate. Let’s review what a literary executor is and when appointing one would be a good idea.

First, let’s talk about executors generally. “Executor” is the person you put in charge of your estate in your will. The executor’s job is to find all your assets and distribute them according to the terms of your will. When you have a trust, this means delivering all the assets in the estate to the trustee, who will then manage them and ultimately distribute them to your named beneficiaries.

A literary executor is a special kind of executor. They are only in charge of your literary assets (i.e., your books, stories, essays, and other writings, as well as your copyrights and related assets). So, while the regular executor deals with your accounts, furniture, and those weird souvenirs from Great Aunt Betty, the literary executor only deals with your writings and makes sure they are transferred to the correct individual(s).

Something to note about executors generally: their job is to get everything out of the estate as quickly as possible. Assets cannot be held in an estate for an extended period; the estate is just a loading/unloading zone for the executor while they get a handle on things and determine how best to get the assets to their ultimate destination. This is just as true for literary executors, which means that if you want your copyrights to be managed by this person for an extended period of time, naming them as literary executor is not the best way to do this.

So, what is the process for managing copyrights over time? If you want the beneficiary to also be the manager, then you can simply give them your copyrights outright. If you don’t want the beneficiary to manage the copyrights, then you can put the copyrights in either a trust or an LLC and direct that the copyrights stay in that spot. From there, you can designate a manager for your copyrights and have the profits go to the beneficiary. This way your beneficiary gets the income, but the copyrights will be managed by someone who knows what they’re doing and how to market the works so they stay profitable.

One last note: If you place your copyrights in your regular trust rather than a literary works trust, you can designate someone to be in charge of those copyrights and nothing else, just like you can with your will. This person would be called the “literary trustee.” The concept is pretty much the same as a literary executor, except the literary trustee can manage the literary assets over an extended period of time.

Of course, all of this begs the question, when do you want to name a literary executor or literary trustee? Personally, I feel this comes down to 1) how much revenue your copyrights are bringing in, and 2) how complex the management of your copyright portfolio is. If your copyrights aren’t making much money, it’s probably not worth having a literary executor or trustee. In the same way, if the management is fairly simple and straightforward, it can probably be managed by the regular executor or trustee, or even the beneficiary receiving the profits. But if your copyrights are making good money, and/or the management is complex enough to need an experienced hand, then a literary executor or literary trustee is probably a good idea.

If you have questions, or would like to ask about appointing a literary executor or literary trustee, please feel free to reach out to me at kaway@kawaylaw.com.

Kelly Way Attorney pic and bio Kelley Way was born and raised in Walnut Creek, California. She graduated from UC Davis with a B.A. in English, followed by a Juris Doctorate. Kelley is a member of the California Bar and an aspiring writer of young adult fantasy novels.