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Estate Planning as a Self-published Author

I updated my Will a while back and as I was deciding what to do with my assets, I realized that I had no idea how to handle the passing down of my growing library of novels.

This raised many questions. Who should get the rights to my written works? How do I transfer those rights? Can I separate them, or do my entire works have to go to one person?

Back when Peter Jackson released The Lord of the Rings trilogy, I recall reading articles about the hoops his production team went through to get permission and the blessing of J.R.R. Tolkien’s estate/family to turn the beloved fantasy novels into a major motion picture. At the time, I wondered how the rights to the novels got transferred to Tolkien’s family, and how it was split among them.

Now that I’m an author, I wonder the same thing about my own, much smaller and far more humble works.

There is the issue of who would own the copyright and how would it be transferred upon my death. There is also the issue of who gets the royalties, and can the royalties go to someone other than the new copyright holder?

With my limited experience in small business, I’m aware that one of the reasons people incorporate their companies is to make it easier to transfer ownership. Can books be treated the same way? Is it feasible or advisable for an author to create their own incorporated publishing company with themselves as the sole or majority shareholder, and transfer all the copyrights and royalties to that corporation?

Instead of the individual author owning the books, their corporation would own them and the author would own the corporation (own its shares). Then, the author would set up their Will in a way that transfers their shares to their heirs however they see fit. Transferring shares upon death is a common practice, so it’s a wheel that’s already been invented.

But setting up a corporation and all the hassle of getting it started and the regulatory requirements and tax implications seems like a lot of work and expense. Is there an easier way?

Inquiring minds want to know.

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