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If you need assistance, please call us at 443-589-5600.

Estate Planning 101 for Artists: How to Make an Inventory of Your Artwork

When most people hear the phrase, “estate asset inventory” they often think of investment accounts, bank accounts, real estate holdings, cars, etc. However, the assets included within your estate should not be limited solely to traditional or big-ticket items. The value of your estate includes all your possessions and belongings, including artwork and other creative endeavors. Whether you own paintings, manuscripts, or even digital media, all personal art should be included in your estate plan.

Creative individuals, including artists and writers (either professional or hobbyist), must take unique considerations into account when planning their estate. For those artists and creatives who are just getting started on their estate planning journey, here are some tips to keep in mind when creating your inventory.

Be Thorough

The ideal inventory of personal art should include the following information for each piece of art you have produced:

  • Title of the piece
  • Completion date
  • Current location of the piece
  • Ownership status
  • Exhibition status (whether the art is on public display or in a private collection)
  • Progress (whether the work is finished or not)
  • Log-in credentials for online and digital art
  • Any relevant pieces of writing and media to accompany the piece

Not every piece of art you have produced will require all of this categorization, but much of this information will be helpful for appraisers to determine the fair market value of your inventory.

Legal Agreements Related to the Art Collection

When your creative works enter the market, they take on new life as products to be bought and sold. As you take inventory of your creative works, be sure to remember the license agreements, contracts, and copyright registrations associated with your art and how you plan to itemize them as needed. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you define and categorize the legal agreements of your creative work.

When taking inventory of licensed and copyright-protected artwork you completed for larger businesses and corporations, be sure to check the language used in your contracts.

Determine Business Ownership

Are your creative works protected by copyright? If so, who owns the copyright? Do you possess sole ownership of your artwork, or does it fall under the proprietorship of a business?

Ultimately, ask yourself, “What makes the most sense for my creative assets from an estate efficiency and management perspective?”

Many independent artists form corporate entities to sell and distribute their creative works. For business owners who want to maintain continuity after they pass, be sure to include the Operating Agreement of your entity in your estate plan.

For business owners who are the sole proprietors of their creative works, your beneficiaries will receive ownership of your creative works after you pass, although your business will cease operations.

Consider Working with a Creative Rights Executor

A “creative rights executor” is someone who will be granted the power of managing your artistic property after you pass. The person named will have certain responsibilities to ensure that your beneficiaries are protected, and your artistic legacy is handled properly.

Duties of a creative rights executor include:

  • Working with your heirs to make decisions regarding republication and licensing of your work
  • Preparing your unfinished art, compositions and manuscripts contracted for publication
  • Terminating copyright licenses as needed
  • Representing your estate against copyright infringements
  • Hiring attorneys and accountants, and naming successors as needed

Take a close look at your inventory as you prepare to decide whether a creative rights executor is advisable. We recommend creative rights executors for artists and creatives whose works are frequently published and/or remain in circulation.

Meet with an Estate Planning Attorney

No matter its form or technical value, your art is a deep and personal expression of your inner self. That is a priceless commodity. And the last thing you want is for your loved ones to have to fight for ownership over your creative works.

Make plans to speak with an experienced estate planning attorney. Together you can work to make sure that, no matter what the future may hold, your collection will be an important part of your legacy.

At Sessa & Dorsey, we understand the intricacies of art collections and how to provide for their transfer in an estate plan. Our team has extensive experience guiding artists and art collectors in achieving their goals of transferring their art collections, including charitable foundations, or entering into agreements with major art galleries.

If you have questions about the best strategies for your artwork, please contact us at (443) 589-5600. At Sessa & Dorsey, we consider the bigger picture at hand and advise our clients on the best estate planning tools for their specific needs and desires.


Related blog posts:

How to Protect Digital Assets in Your Estate Plan

What Happens If I Die Without a Will in Maryland?

When Should I Update My Estate Plan?

How the Probate Process Works in Maryland