101: Basic Estate Planning For Artists To Help You Family In A Time Of Sadness

Estate planning for artists

The American artist, poet and academic Harriet Schorr put it quite plainly, ‘Dead artists leave two bodies: their own, and a body of work’.  While it may seem natural to leave instructions to family in a will, artists should also deal with the important question of what will happen to their works.

My works are modestly priced – do I really need an estate plan?

Even if you don’t currently consider your works to be ‘high value’, this may change over the course of your lifetime and beyond. There are many famous examples of artists whose work became valuable either later in life or posthumously. Van Gogh sold only one painting in his lifetime. Photographer Vivian Maier hid her photographs. When the photos were discovered after her death, they were considered very valuable and rights to her work were subject to litigation.

No matter the ‘market value’ of your work, typically, an artist’s family and beneficiaries will feel a strong sense of duty that an artist should be remembered in the ‘right way’. Working out what that looks like requires careful thought.  Your family and loved ones will appreciate your help in leaving instructions about your works in the event of your death. 

Estate Planning for Artists: What do I need to consider for my artist estate plan?

When an artist dies, the work they have produced in a lifetime form a tangible and emotional legacy. When making any estate plan, you should ask yourself:

  • What do I have to give?
  • To whom do I want to give?

An artist’s estate plan, however, has important additional considerations. As an artist, you also need to consider whether:

  • your art should be sold, given to beneficiaries, to charities, museums (or, if it is your wish, destroyed)
  • your artwork should be licensed to generate further income
  • your art should be left to individuals or to a family trust

What are the advantages of having an estate plan for artists?

Leaving a well-designed estate plan, will make the life of those one that you leave behind much easier. Family will not need to try to figure out your wishes but just follow them. This will reduce the risk of conflict in one’s family. An estate

Estate planning is more than preparing a will. It gives you the opportunity to determine what should happen to your works (and other assets) when you die and who will be the responsible person who administers your estate. Estate planning also gives you the opportunity to minimise the risk of claims against your estate.

Asquith Legal can help with estate planning for artists

Asquith Legal can help artists with their estate planning needs. We would love to work with you.

In the meantime, here are some key steps you can take yourself:

  • Always catalogue your art works
  • Make sure the right people know where to find and how to access your works
  • Maintain a list of works that are on-hire, currently exhibited, sold or licensed

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