Where There’s a Will…

The Girl in the Spider's WebI regret to inform you that I am eternally behind the curve. My seventeen year old daughter would happily reveal that state of affairs, and does so at every opportunity (notwithstanding that it was I who first told her about Leon Bridges). So it is that it was only yesterday when I learned that this coming September 1 we’ll be seeing The Girl in the Spider’s Web, a fourth installment in the Lisbeth Salander canon (also known as The Millennium Trilogy) which began with the now world-famous The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson.  The new volume will be written by David Lagercrantz, who has been retained to write it by Larsson’s estate, which consists of Larsson’s father and brother. And therein lays the rub.

The lead up to the publication of the Salander books has been covered exhaustively elsewhere and can be had with Google search. For our purposes today we’ll touch only on the high (or low) points. Larsson conceived the Salander canon as consisting of ten books. He wrote three, substantially completed a fourth, and outlined volumes five through ten. Larsson died of a heart attack in 2004, however, before any of the books were published.  A will which Larsson drafted in 1977 was discovered after his death, but his signature had been unwitnessed. The will was thus declared invalid under Swedish law. Worse, Larsson’s longtime companion, Eva Gabrielsson, could not inherit from him under intestate succession, which is the order in which relatives can inherit from someone who dies without a will. Larsson’s intellectual property — the Salander books — thus passed to his father and brother, who were his nearest living relatives but from whom, by most accounts, he had been estranged for many years.

last-will-and-testamentMany of us — me included — believe that we are going to live forever, or at least at a point far enough in the future where it won’t make any difference, and don’t have a will as a result. While Larsson went through the motions, he didn’t go through enough of them. It is doubtful that Larsson contemplated the possibility that he would be toasting marshmallows with Karl Marx and Leon Trotsky about the time that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was hitting the top of the bestseller charts all over the world. The result is that Larsson’s closest blood relatives  received his entire kit and caboodle.  Ms. Gabrielsson, with whom Larsson shared home and hearth, and who may well have contributed substantially to the creation and expression of Larsson’s work, will never receive so much as a krona of royalties, or have any say as to how her partner’s property is handled going forward. That is now up to Dad and Bro. If you were hoping that one day your child might go to school with a Lisbeth Salander lunchbox, or you were planning to obtain a removable dragon tattoo to spice things up on some weekend, don’t lose hope. It still could happen.

Don’t let this happen to you. If you have created a piece — or several pieces — of intellectual property, be they published, recorded, or otherwise, have a will drafted in which a specific bequest of that property — and everything else you have — is made. Spend the money and go to an attorney who specializes in such matters; your attorney will/should make sure that your will is executed properly and in accordance with the laws of your state. Please believe me: this is much better than writing it out on a cocktail napkin on the third night of Bouchercon. Insist that your will explicitly states 1) to whom you are giving, or bequeathing, the specific intellectual property and 2) that you are granting to your beneficiary full administrative rights over the property. Should there be something that you do not want done with the property (such as action figures or computer game licensing) this would be the time to mention as well: put your restrictions in writing. If while bestowing your property you exclude someone who would otherwise be the natural object of your bounty, state why you are making the choices you are making. Yes, you might hurt someone’s feelings. If, however, you state that you are leaving your intellectual property to your brother because you feel that your brother is better able to deal with business matters, contesting your will successfully will be problematic for your sister.

You laugh. But you never know. There are any number of authors who didn’t live to see, and thus enjoy, their success. Do you really want someone you don’t even like deciding how your work will be treated, or — even worse — a government official choosing who will control things? The answer of course is “no.” Don’t let your loved one, whoever they may be, end up like Eva Gabrielsson.

12 thoughts on “Where There’s a Will…

  1. Sound advice, Joe. Hard to believe my animal figurines from the teabag boxes might someday be worth something, but one never knows.

    Poor Eva. Chances are slim Dad and bro will share.

    • Amanda, you never know. I have a friend who is an antique dealer and you wouldn’t believe some of the items that are valuable. As far as Eva goes, she interestingly enough has in her possession the substantially completed ms. of what would have been the fourth volume. She’s holding onto it and won’t release it until she comes to an agreement with Dad and Bro. That day may never come. Thanks!

  2. Good advice. My favorite fictional treatment of this subject is Testament, by John Grisham. One of my favorite books.

    • Thanks Dave, for mentioning Testament, which involves a very wealthy man whose leaves everything to a surprise heir. I often think about all the air going out of the room at the reading of the will. Good Gawd!

    • Righto, James! I didn’t want to get into that, simply because 1) I rambled on long enough and 2) the whole trust and estates topic is outside of my bailiwick. An attorney who specializes in those matters can guide the prospective client accordingly. Thanks for the reminder.

  3. Good morning, Joe

    Great advice. And timely advice.

    It reminds me that it is time for us (my wife and I) to update our will.

    I’m in the midst of trying to settle my father’s estate. My mother passed two years ago. My father had dementia. After my mom developed brain metastases (and confusion) she changed the financial power of attorney to my sister (worst possible sibling for the job) but kept me as executor. Now after two years of plundering and pillaging by the POA, and my father’s death in January, I’m trying to set the estate in order – with resistance by the POA at every step.

    So, I can understand your advice. Think through your decisions carefully, and update your will/living trust regularly.

    Too bad you and JSB weren’t offering a special on wills and trusts for writers.

    Thanks for a great post.

    • Steve, thanks so much for sharing your painful experience. Uhhh….you sure we’re not brothers? Your situation and one that I’m very close to are so similar that I choked coffee all over my keyboard. I hope things settle down for you sooner rather than later. Hang in there, my friend!

  4. This post brings to mind Agatha Christie. Although I am sure she did leave a will and trusted her grandson with her estate, I am not sure she would be happy with the outcome. He has approved for another author, Sophie Hannah, to write new Poirot books. (Hercule Poirot was Agatha Christie’s famous Belgian detective). Ms. Christie wrote the final books for both Poirot and Miss Marple long before she died and secured them in a vault to be published after her death. Would she have thought to do this if she would have wished another author to use her characters. I don’t think so. What Ms. Hannah did to get around that was to step into the middle of Poirot’s timeline and write an additional book, which is being touted as the “new” Agatha Christie book by Sophie Hannah. I don’t think Agatha would be happy about this, but greed will do a lot of things to people and their integrity.
    Being a long term fan of Agatha Christie, I am not happy–(could you tell?) I refuse to read that book, even from the library.

    So, I agree. I think it is vital that all authors (or even aspiring ones with a manuscript in their drawer) to be very specific in their wishes. Thanks for such a thought provoking post. 🙂

  5. Rebecca thanks for sharing this, I was unaware of this situation. Given that Christie had written what were to be the last books in both of the series, one would think that her feelings on the matter 1) were clear and 2) should be respected. Speaking for myself, I think it has the potential to tarnish the canon, no matter how well the posthumous novels are written. If it’s the author’s wish that the character be continued, however, that’s another matter. Two examples that come to mind are Max Allan Collins continuation/completion of Mickey Spillane’s work (Collins was hand-picked by Spillane to do so) and Ace Atkins’ posthumous Spenser novels (with the blessing of Parker’s widow Joan). Both have done an honorable job of continuing the respective legacies.

    • Thank you, Jim. I agree, the all-caps thing is a turn off, to be used only in the most extreme of circumstances, such as catching your cat playing on the keyboard.

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