How Our Brooklyn Estate Planning Lawyers Help Artists Make an Impact

You may not be able to continue creating art after death, but the decisions you make now can go a long way in establishing the sort of legacy that you wish to leave behind. Landskind & Ricaforte Law Group’s team of experienced  Brooklyn estate planning lawyers could help you explore the best options for protecting your passion. 

Estate Planning to Protect a Creative Legacy

Your estate plan is your only defense against uncertainty. In creating an estate plan, whether through a will or a living trust, you take the reins in making decisions about: 

  • How to best preserve your most prized works of art 
  • Whether certain pieces should be sold, gifted, or given to heirs 
  • Who has the rights—and the capacity—to represent the best interests of your estate

Estate plans can have many other essential applications outside of your professional aspirations. 

If you have any children, for instance, then a will can be used to nominate a guardian if you are ever seriously injured or incapacitated. Similarly, your estate plan can be used to set limits on the type and extent of care you should receive.

However, many of these decisions won’t be yours to make in the absence of any estate plan. 

The Risk of Intestacy

In New York, a person who dies without a will or a trust is said to have died “intestate.” These cases are almost always subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of a Surrogate’s Court, which will redistribute the deceased person’s assets in accordance with a strict legal formula. In most cases, and with very few exceptions, the intestacy rules will only provide inheritances to your closest living relatives—even if you wanted your art collection to be preserved by a trust or donated to a museum or charity. 

Laying the Foundations of an Estate Plan

Many people find estate planning an intimidating process, no matter their occupation—and for good reason. You acknowledge your mortality by writing a will or establishing a trust. Beyond that, preparing for your own passing can mean deciding how your possessions should be redistributed. 

Consider Your Priorities Before Creating a Plan 

For artists, separating creative productions from the sorts of assets ordinarily included in a will—bank accounts, motor vehicles, and real property—can be very difficult. This is especially true if you wish for your artwork to be preserved and presented rather than sold at auction by your heirs.  

Before sitting down with an estate planning lawyer, you may want to ask yourself questions like: 

  • “How do I want my work to be remembered?” 
  • “How would I feel if my heirs sold or gave my creations?” 
  • “If my work generates an income now—and I can expect it to continue generating profit after I die—how would I want these loyalties or revenues to be used?” 
  • “Outside of my creations, do any of my supplies—brushes, cameras, or props—have enough intrinsic or sentimental value to warrant their own special protections?” 
  • “Who do I trust to serve as an executor or trustee for my estate—somebody who will treat my possessions and legacy with the respect it deserves?” 

Some of these questions aren’t easy to answer. 

Cataloging Your Collection 

Even if you already have an idea of how you’d like to structure an estate plan, accounting for your estate can present its own challenges. This is especially true of artists with long, successful, or productive careers. You might know where you’d like a handful of items or collections to go—but what about the pieces in storage or the expensive materials you consider tools of the trade? 

Cataloging your collection can be a somewhat time-consuming process, but it is often the best way to ensure that none of the assets you care about are unintentionally neglected by your will or trust. A catalog can be drafted on paper, entered into Microsoft Excel, kept as a project-in-progress on your Google Drive, or maintained in another way. But it should, at minimum, include the following types of information: 

  • A reference image or written description of the piece 
  • The title of the piece and the date of its creation
  • The physical location of the piece (if it is at home, in a storage unit, displayed in a private studio, or on loan to a gallery) 
  • Contractual information, such as the terms of a licensing agreement or any current royalties 
  • Appraisal information 

During probate or trust administration, your estate representative must make a comprehensive inventory of all your assets. In some cases, they must also have artwork appraised. Creating a catalog makes your estate representative’s job a little easier and protects your creations.

Choosing an Executor

Your executor is the person responsible for overseeing the dissolution and redistribution of your estate. Executors have many different duties, which include—but are certainly not limited to—the following: 

  • Filing the initial petition to open a probate claim 
  • Notifying heirs, beneficiaries, and creditors of probate proceedings 
  • Marshalling and managing your estate assets 
  • Contracting experts to assess and appraise both your self-created works of art and any art collections that you might also own 
  • Resolving estate debts 
  • Resolving estate contests, including lawsuits 
  • Distributing inheritances 

Even if you expect that your estate can be easily dissolved, probate always presents the risk of misunderstanding and mismanagement. Your executor might be committed to keeping your legacy untarnished but may not have the skills or experience needed to store environmentally sensitive artwork or manage royalty-related investments. 

Ultimately, your executor should be an individual you trust unconditionally—and somebody who is not afraid to admit their limitations or seek help when needed.  

Allocating Gifts

You may have a specific vision for your estate plan. However, in all probability, there are specific works of art that—even if invaluable—you would prefer to be given as gifts to friends and family. 

In estate law, the term used for these specific allocations is “bequest.” Your bequests must be detailed, naming the item to be gifted and its intended recipient. 

Dealing with Intellectual Property

Professional artists must also consider the intellectual property rights applied to their products. 

Although many people believe that copyrighting a product occurs only through the legal process, a “copyright” is—as the term itself might suggest—a right. Copyrighting is therefore automatic, and it protects any original works for the duration of your lifetime plus a further 70 years after death. 

Your estate planning lawyer can help you better understand how copyright laws work, but you’ll need to consider who, if anyone, should inherit your intellectual property rights. 

Deciding Between Different Types of Estate Plans

The Landskind & Ricaforte Law Group, PC, has spent years helping New Yorkers manage their legacies. Our attorneys have worked with artists from many different backgrounds. We understand that preferences can vary in complexity and may require multiple solutions to maximize your peace of mind. 

During and after your initial consultation, we’ll discuss and recommend strategies that seem best suited for your longer-term aspirations. These could include the use of: 

A Last Will and Testament 

A will is a legally binding document that is the bedrock of even the most complex estate plans. Your will gives you the right to: 

  • Transfer artwork and other assets to named heirs
  • Nominate an executor
  • Allocate resources for use in storing, managing, and preserving sensitive creative works
  • Direct payment of estate taxes

Although wills are sometimes considered “simple,” they must meet specific statutory requirements to be valid. Furthermore, an estate plan may need to include instruments other than a will—especially if your estate is large or complex. 

A Testamentary Trust

A trust is an entity that can receive, own, and manage many different types of assets. 

Trusts come in different forms: they can be revocable or irrevocable and structured to either provide an inheritance to close friends and family or a more philanthropic legacy. 

However, almost every form of trust can provide distinct advantages over a will. For example, a trust can: 

  • Help keep your estate out of probate 
  • Condition the distribution of assets
  • Direct that assets be used only in a very specific manner

A Charitable Trust or Partnership 

If you’re interested in a more philanthropic legacy, you may also wish to consider establishing a charitable trust or a partnership with a university, museum, or preferred non-profit organization. Partnerships and endowments require substantial planning and negotiated arrangements that our attorneys can help you configure.