When artists, musicians and writers die, they often leave behind an impressive body of work, much of which may still be unavailable to the public. Time and again, their estates get drawn into lengthy battles as various heirs seek control over the creative content these artists left behind.
Why do these estate problems happen? Often it’s due to a lack of proper estate planning.
You only have to look at the mess that legendary musician Prince left behind when he died without a will to understand the problems that can happen when there’s a vast body of work (and a large amount of money) left behind without clear directions.
This is a common problem, experts say, because creative people tend to be focused on their work, not what’s going to happen when they’re no longer here.
However, there’s another issue that often plagues artists and other creative people. It’s actually the opposite problem, which is too many directions.
It’s normal for an individual’s wishes regarding his or her legacy and wealth to change over time. Everything from the social climate of the times to a creative person’s relationships with the other people in his or her life can affect his or her desires. However, leaving multiple versions of wills behind can sometimes create confusion about what a person really wanted.
Finally, there are often problems toward the end of an artist’s life with people who have less-than-honorable intentions swooping in and taking advantage of a vulnerable situation. Business managers, friends and family members sometimes make a last-ditch grab for control of the creative person’s estate.
These people recognize that there’s a tremendous amount of money up for grabs when that person dies. That can lead to charges of undue influence and even greater confusion over what should happen to the creative legacy that remains.
So, what can you do to protect yourself if you’re a creative sort? Estate planning is essential. Take advantage of estate planning vehicles, like trusts and foundations, to put the body of your work aside as you are done with it. That way you know it is secure from other people’s manipulations.
Finally, don’t treat the process as “one and done.” Review your estate plans yearly to make sure that they are still proper and up-to-date. Should a dispute arise, your record of measured decisions and the updated plans will help guide the court regarding your wishes.