Estate planning for artists. Do any of the following apply to you?

  • Do you create art as a hobby? While you might not be making money from your art, your work might nonetheless have value either later in your life or after you die. For that reason, it’s important that you keep good records. Document as many details as possible.
  • Have you been selling your work without making a lot of money? If you sell your art for any amount of money, you are deriving an economic benefit. Therefore, anything left in your estate when you die will likely have value, even if it’s just sentimental.
  • Are you actively selling your work?  If so, you need a plan for what happens to any artwork included in your estate when you die. But you also need to make sure any income is accurately accounted for. 

Your Artwork Has Value. 

Whether you are making a lot of money or no money at all, understand that your artwork has value. It should be treated as you would treat any other asset, such as bank and brokerage accounts and real property. And, depending on the nature of your art, consider having it appraised.  Also depending on the value, as an artist, you might have either a federal or state estate tax issue. To pay any tax owed on your estate at the time of your death, your beneficiaries might have to sell some or all the artwork. You are an artist. Therefore, estate planning for artists should be taken seriously.

Registration is Mandatory for Filing a Lawsuit.

Many artists choose to buy into the misleading idea that you have a copyright the moment you create your work. Perhaps, theoretically, that’s true. That said, don’t be lulled into thinking there is nothing more to do. Real copyright protection comes from registering your work with the United States Copyright Office. In fact, if during your lifetime you ever need to sue for copyright infringement, registration is a prerequisite. Likewise, if your beneficiaries need to defend your rights, a registration would be needed. 

Make it Easy for Your Beneficiaries.

Here are some things you might consider doing now, which will make life easier for your beneficiaries when you die:

  1. Register your valuable creative content. You can do it yourself or hire a lawyer.
  2. Keep documentation and other records updated.
  3. Make sure all pieces of artwork are accounted for.
  4. If you license your work, make sure you have enforceable agreements.
  5. Make sure all agreements relating to your work are easily accessible.
  6. Make sure you have income statements accounting for all sales.
  7. If after you die, you want your artwork to be distributed to certain individuals and/or organizations, make sure that information is known.
  8. The best way to ensure your artwork and other assets get into the right hands is through a well-drafted estate plan.

Skip to content