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Songwriters, music artists and creators, and record producers should have a will or trust

Learn why songwriters, music artists or creators, musicians, and record producers should have a will or a trust in place for estate planning purposes.

January 14, 2020

This article deals with why a songwriter, music creators, recording artists, or record producers should have a will or trust and what risks are involved in not having a will or trust.
Do music creators, producers, artists or songwriters need a will or trust?

No one likes to think or talk about death, let alone their own death. Unfortunately, no matter who you are, it is one of the few things in life that is a guarantee.

When you pass away, your assets and property pass to your heirs, including any copyrights, and trademarks. This means your songs, and music recordings or masters, in addition to any money, homes or real estate, and other assets or property will pass to your heirs. Without a will, the laws of the state in which you were domiciled at the time of your death controls who your heirs are and how much and what they inherit from you. This is why estate planning with the proper wills and trusts is critical to everyone, including and especially songwriters, music and recording artists, record producers, and any other musicians or music creators.

If a songwriter, music creator or recording artist, musician, or record producer dies without a will or trust, what happens?

If you die without a will, this is known under the law as dying intestate. As mentioned above, if a songwriter, producer, musician, or music artist or creator dies without will, the laws of the state where the deceased was domiciled when they passed away determines who the deceased's heirs are who will inherit their property, including music copyrights and trademarks. That state's laws also determine how much or the share of the decedent's property each heir receives. Every state has these intestate succession statutes or laws that determine who the intestate decedent's heirs are and how much of the inheritance or property they're entitled to.

Learn why music creators, songwriters, recording artists, and record producers need a will or trust and what happens if they don't, from estate planning, entertainment, and music attorney Zach Scott Gainous.
Entertainment, Music, & Estate Planning Attorney Zach Scott Gainous

Determining a intestate deceased's domicile at the time of their death is very important, but can be complicated and time consuming. This is especially true if you have multiple homes in different states, or travel or vacation extensively, as a lot of successful and creative people, songwriters, music artists, creators, and record producers do. As a result, when a person dies intestate, determining where they were domiciles at the time of their death can result in expensive, drawn out, and time consuming probate disputes and litigation among the person's apparent heirs.

Once the intestate deceased's domicile is determined, then the law of the state that the decedent was domiciled in will determine who the deceased's heirs are and how much of the inheritance each heir receives. Who inherits or has the option inherit what and in what amounts can vary from state to state. This can have major implications for who inherits a songwriter's, record producer's, recording artist's or music creator's songs, masters, and other music copyrights and trademarks, in addition to money, real estate and other property.

This means that those people who the music creator, artist, songwriter, or record producer wants to control or profit from their music copyrights or trademarks after their death, may not be who ends up doing so. For example, if the intestate decedent has children outside of their marriage, whether they're known about or not, most states intestate succession laws will provide for those children. Intestate succession will also often provide for the spouse of the deceased even if they were estranged or no longer living together but never actually divorced.

Dying without a will or trust can also impact who can profit from, or control the deceased's name, image, or likeness. The laws of the state of domicile will determine which heirs can authorize the use by others of the deceased's photos or images and life story or biographical information. As a result, the heirs who can approve and profit from the creation or publication of a posthumous or post-death book, movie, film, or television show about the deceased's life, or even the production or promotion holographic concert or tour, may not be an heir who the songwriter, music artist or creator want it to be, and that heir may not be qualified or trustworthy enough to have that control.

As you can imagine, when songwriters, record producers, music artists and creators pass away, especially when there's no will or trust, there is often expensive, time consuming, stressful, and drawn out probate disputes and litigation between family members or alleged family members or heirs about who should inherit their property, money, real estate, songs, and masters. The deaths of Prince, Michael Jackson, Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Amy Winehouse, and Aretha Franklin, show the unnecessary risks and difficulties that can come when musicians, songwriters, music artists, and record producers, no matter their age or cause of death, pass away without a will or a trust in place.

Wills and trusts allow songwriters to pick who inherits, controls, and profits from their songs, masters, or music copyrights or trademarks, and name, image, and likeness.

Fortunately, estate planning documents like a will or trust can eliminate or greatly reduce these unnecessary risks, hassles, expenses, and disputes. Having a will or a trust can allow songwriters, music artists and creators, record producers, and musicians to protect their songs, masters, other music related copyrights and trademarks, and name, image, and likeness rights and control who exactly inherits, profits from, or controls those rights and assets after their death. In addition, having a will or trust can allow music creator, artist, record producer, or songwriter to pick who exactly they want to inherit what other specific money, property, and real estate, and allows them to protect and provide for family and friends after their death, including surviving spouses, children, grandchildren, parents, and others.

The deaths of plenty of well known musicians, songwriters, recording or music artists and creators, also show the benefits of having a will or a trust. These benefits are especially helpful if you are or become a successful musician, songwriter, record producer, music creator or recording artist, whether before or after your death, or if you want to control your songs, masters, and other music copyrights and trademarks after your death. If you're a songwriter, musician, record producer, music creator, or recording artist, or a heir or potential heir of one, hiring a music or entertainment attorney or estate planning lawyer or law firm to advise and assist or represent you in matters involving wills or trusts, can be highly beneficial.

If you want any additional information wills, trusts, or estate planning for songwriters, music artists or creators, or record producers, including if you need legal assistance or drafting, advice, or representation regarding your own wills or trusts, please call us at 615-671-4301 or contact us at The Fruitful Firm anytime.


Zach Scott Gainous is a music and entertainment attorney and estate planning lawyer in Nashville, and the founder and managing attorney of Nashville entertainment, music, and estate planning law firm The Fruitful Firm. Zach regularly provides legal expertise, advice and representation, including wills and trusts, to music artists, creators, songwriters, record producers, and more.


Disclaimer: This article or post is not and should not be considered or used as a substitute for legal advice or the hiring of an attorney. You should always carefully seek out legal advice and representation from a qualified attorney to assist you with your legal matters and issues.


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