Estates and Writing and Some Observations…
Today I found myself back in the position once again of going through someone’s personal papers and tossing them in a black bag. Old financial records, old pictures of her and her husband, a few journals, 4-H ribbons, letters from home during the Peace Corp years.
You know details about a life well-lived.
Just over five years ago, I found myself doing the same thing for another friend. His name was Bill Trojan and was a well-known book dealer in the sf world. I realized he had numbers of degrees. I tossed away his old wedding pictures and all his medical records that told him just how sick he really was.
I knew more about Bill in death than I ever did when he was alive and I was his best friend. I had the task, since he had no family and I was his executor, of throwing away his life.
Someone had to do it.
Someone always has to do it for everyone.
Bill was also a hoarder and a collector.
Now I find myself in a similar spot. Not as bad by a long ways as Bill’s estate.
The new story goes like this:
In 1999 Kris and I bought a house just down the hill from our other two houses. Actually, it was at the foot of our driveway and we wanted to protect our houses on the hill. Seemed logical at the time. Go with it. Every couple needs three homes overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
We decided to remodel the house and put a writer’s workshop in it. We had just started the remodel when two of our friends, two poker buddies of mine, were flooded out of their home on the Siletz River. Water came up sixty feet that year and you couldn’t even see the peak of their two-story home with a photo from five hundred feet in the air.
So we let them stay in our third house while they were searching for another house to buy. They loved the place, so after a month or so we just sold the house to them and did that first workshop somewhere else.
They were wonderful friends and neighbors.
He died about six years later and she lived in the house until about a week ago, when she finally died at home with her sister with her. Her battle with cancer had been off-and-on for almost twenty years.
After her husband died, she had turned into a hoarder as well. And she had good taste on many things. But her health and energy just didn’t allow her to keep things from getting out of hand. It happens.
Her sister (from another state and a few other relatives from another state) took the few personal things they wanted to remember her by. But the mess was just too much for them. They had supported her when she was alive and followed the details in her will with who got what. (She gave me her poker chip collection.)
Since I have the businesses and the crews here, I told her sister I would pay for all the garbage removal and get all the stuff to the right places in exchange for some of the stuff I might find to sell in our stores.
We are giving all the furniture and larger stuff to an auction to sell for the estate. We are giving all her clothing to a women’s shelter here in town. We are giving all the blankets and stuff to warming shelters. I’m in charge of getting all that done, but I have great help.
But that still leaves a lot of misc. stuff. Much of it buried.
So I am going through everything, a sort of a sad treasure hunt through someone’s life before the guys and trucks arrive to start taking things to the dump and to the shelters and to the auction.
What Does All This Have to Do With Writing?
Well, a bunch, actually.
My friend had one piece of property. The house.
All the rest was just personal stuff that is getting either tossed, donated, or sold. And the house will end up being sold and my friend will just sort of vanish into all of our memories.
But writers, well we have a lot of property. Every thing you write is a form of property.
(If you have no idea what I am talking about and are writing, you are in deep trouble. Go buy the Copyright Handbook from NoLo Press right now.)
You see, copyright property has value that could pay your family, your estate, for a very long time after you die IF SET UP AND HANDLED CORRECTLY.
My friend had a very good will. All clean and easy. She had no children, her sister was her executor. Her sister basically hired me to do this.
But if my friend had been a writer and only had the will she had, I would have been tossing her manuscripts into a black bag to be hauled to recycling. Not only would I have been tossing away the details of a life well lived, but I would have been tossing away her art, her work, her legacy.
Doing what I am doing is sad enough. Don’t let your relatives toss away your copyright property as well.
What Do You Do?
— Start by learning business.
— Start by getting books to learn copyright.
— Start by getting books to learn estates and trusts.
— Start by looking at those around you and figuring out who might be able to handle your work to try to keep it alive. Who might want to make some money from your work?
— Start by getting your work in order, with some sort of inventory so your family even knows what exists in an easy-to-find form. And then keep it up.
And that’s just a start.
But most importantly, get started. Don’t let it overwhelm you, just start.
And, of course, keep writing.
Keep creating property that, if lucky, will be a gold-mine for your surviving relatives when you are gone.
And then they won’t throw away your life.