Preparing for your eventual demise isn’t fun, but there are far more important things you can do for your musical legacy than writing a requiem. Proper planning for your death or incapacity is important even if you don’t have a spouse or kids and it involves more than just making a will.
So, here’s a bucket list of ten things composers and other musicians should do before they die. You don’t have to do everything all at once and some steps are more important than others. But get started! Spoiler alert: it all boils down to organizing your musical life, deciding who you want to be in charge of it once you’re gone and then working with professionals to ensure a smooth hand-off.
1. Organize your files. All contracts, royalty statements and other important documents should be kept together and clearly organized. Get a filing cabinet and a bunch of manila folders. You should know that planning for the legal aspects of your life is a very crucial thing to do. You can keep digital files of scanned documents as long as the documents and folders are clearly labeled.
Create clearly labeled physical files for:
Organize your digital files, too:
2. Create an easily accessible master list for the user name and passwords to:
3. Make sure all your works have been registered with your PRO and the MLC. You need to do this regularly in order to get paid public performance royalties and mechanical royalties involved in streaming. Also, if you are self-published, it’s the easiest way for potential licensees to find your music other than Googling you to find your web site. And periodically check to make sure works represented by other publishers are properly registered, too. If you’re a recording artist or have self-produced recordings, you should also sign up with SoundExchange and register your works there as well.
4. Assign the copyrights in your works to your publishing company if it’s a corporate entity. If you don’t have a publishing company or it’s merely a sole proprietorship (e.g., Jane Doe d/b/a Jane Doe Music) this is not an issue – there’s no need to assign something to yourself. However, if your publishing company is some other form of business entity (e.g., S Corp., LLC, LLP) you should do this. Since PROs only track payees, not owners, merely registering your works in the name of your publishing company with your PRO may not be sufficient when it comes to any sale or transfer of your publishing company. A one-page assignment of copyright with a schedule of works may be all that’s needed.
5. Register your works with the Copyright Office. While registration is permissive, rather than mandatory, there are many benefits to registration, including proof of authorship, the existence of deposit copies of your work and availability of statutory damages if your work’s infringed. You can do a group registration under certain conditions online at www.copyright.gov.
6. Make a list of works represented by other publishers. It can be a simple Excel spreadsheet with columns for the title of the work, instrumentation, the publisher’s name and contact information.
7. Let someone know where all the above information is kept. Any master list and instructions should be in a separate document kept with your will and other estate planning documents and insurance policies.
While you’re organizing your files and making sure your works registrations are up to date, here are some things to think about regarding estate planning for your music and other creative properties:
8. First, find a local trusts and estates (T&E) attorney. While the Copyright Act is federal law, T&E law is largely governed by state laws, which can vary greatly. Moreover, you want to meet with a local T&E lawyer about drafting important documents such as your will, living will, health care proxy and any trusts for the benefit of loved ones. Your T&E attorney will ask you all the right questions about how you want to deal with your estate, including tax issues, and will customize an estate plan for you in accordance with your state’s and applicable federal laws.
9. But, also consider working with an entertainment lawyer, too. While there are T&E lawyers who are well-versed in copyright and the music business, most are not, especially if you live in an area that’s not a big arts hub. So, it may be helpful to have an entertainment lawyer work with your T&E attorney. The entertainment lawyer need not be local, but should be someone with copyright and music business expertise, including things that are specific to your genre. The pitfalls avoided will be well worth the modest additional cost.
An experienced music lawyer can be helpful because this attorney can:
10. Consider having a separate music or arts executor. The person you choose as the executor of your overall estate should be the person you trust the most to deal with your home, your finances, the care of your loved ones and most of your other physical possessions. However, that person may not be the best one to deal with your music and any other literary or creative properties (e.g., did she really mean to put that C# in the horn part?). So, just as you may consider consulting an entertainment lawyer as part of your estate planning, you may want to consider naming a friend or colleague who is familiar with your music to serve as a special music or arts executor to deal with your compositions and other creative works. You should discuss your choice of executor(s) with the individuals you choose and should have back-ups. Executors can decline to serve – or may even predecease you.
As with other aspects of your estate planning, paying attention to issues relating to your music now, before you either die or are incapacitated, will not only give you peace of mind but will spare your loved ones unnecessary cost and anxiety. It’s the best way to protect your creative legacy. Contact a member of our team today.
Contributions to this blog by Danielle Yurkew.