Before the recent birth of my second child, my wife and I were preparing for this new life coming into the world by ensuring that our kids would be financially secure upon both of our deaths. While we’re only in our late-30s, it’s difficult to consider both of us dying unexpectedly in the near future. And yet, we have had close friends who were about our age pass away suddenly this last year, so we know it can happen.

When setting up a will or trust for your next of kin, there are a lot of assets that are easily included in these documents. Houses, investments, retirement accounts, and bank accounts. However, there is one thing a creative person needs to consider when planning for their death: what happens to the rights to their creative works? If you traditionally publish, some of these details may be already covered in your contract. If you self-publish, now might be the time to think about what to do.

What happens to your creations when you’re gone?

With the ease and autonomy of Print on Demand (POD) self-publishing, people can still buy your books after you are dead. If you want people to still purchase your works, then they’ll still earn you royalties that might go to bank accounts that would be closed upon your death. You’ll need to provide instructions and passwords so someone can get into your account and redirect the e-mails, bank accounts, and tax information to their own accounts so they can still receive royalties. This may be the best option for someone who doesn’t need to distribute the royalties to your books among a group of people. You don’t want people fighting over something like your royalties after you’ve died.

Alternatively, if you have provided the ability for your next of kin to access your accounts, you can have them de-list your books from these services. Un-publishing is fairly easy on these platforms and is likely the simplest way to handle your books after you are gone. This means that any physical copies of your books that remain out in the world may become collector’s items, but it’s unlikely that a self-published author would be famous enough for that to be a troublesome outcome.

While it may take a bit more work, you might consider a Springing License through Creative Commons for your books. This way, you’d still get royalties for your books while you’re alive, but once you die, your works will transfer into the public domain. Be sure to research what it takes to enact this kind of Creative Commons License and let those you leave behind be aware of what they need to do to make it happen.

Death is a Legal Matter

Wills and trusts are legally binding documents. Legal documents should be written to make it clear what happens when these contracts are triggered. Similarly, if you went the traditional publishing route, the contract you signed for that process likely has clauses built in that cover what happens when you die. As with all legal documents, make sure you read these contracts carefully and understand them before you sign. Depending on how your publishing contract is set up, rights may revert to the publisher when you die and your surviving family might not see any more royalties from your work.

After you’ve thought long and hard about what you want to happen with your creative works when you’re gone, consider writing up an action plan. You might want a lawyer to look over it and a notary to sign it, so there’s no question about what your intentions are when you are no longer physically present to enact them. You can include these kinds of statements in your will or trust—which you’ll want to have a lawyer look over and a notary sign, anyway.

Death can take us by surprise, so it’s best to think about what happens when you’re gone now so you can plan for it. Surviving family members might not know how you want these things handled, or it may be too overwhelming for them to figure out on their own. Do them a service by creating a plan for all your assets, including the creative ones.


When you die, what do you want to happen to your books?
Does your family know what you want to be done with your books?
Can you describe to someone the process of changing your account?

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