The Heir Affair

The Heir Affair – Writing Magazine – November 2023

None of us wants to think about our death. But, as writers, thanks to copyright, our words continue living and generating an income for our heirs after we die. So, have you considered what your beneficiaries will have to deal with when you’re no longer here to show them? 

November is National Will Writing Month and many solicitors provide free or discounted will-writing services during this period. However, getting a last will and testament drafted is only part of the story. Even if we treat our writing as a hobby, there are steps we should all take right now to help our executor, beneficiaries, and heirs for when the time comes.

Potential Problems

Imagine you’ve shuffled off to the big blank page in the sky. While coping with their grief, relatives find your will and let your appointed executor know. They inform your bank, who freezes your bank account with immediate effect.

This means the bank won’t accept any further royalty payments. Self-publishing platforms usually pay out every month, unlike traditional publishers who pay every six months. Will your heirs know when money should be coming into your account?

The bank may set up a new account to deal with your estate and receive these royalty payments, but this can take time. Your executor will need to contact anyone who sends you royalty payments and advise them to send money to the new estate bank account. Before Amazon KDP, Draft2Digital, Apple, etc, will do that, they’ll need to see your death certificate and evidence that your executor has the power to deal with this.

Even if your heirs know some of your usernames and passwords, what about two-factor authentication? Many websites send a text message as part of the log-in process to our mobile phones. That’s not a problem with a pay-as-you-go phone, but if you’re on a monthly contract, the bank will stop the direct debit when they freeze your account and your SIM will no longer work.

Preparatory Planning

The more preparation we make now, the easier it will be for our beneficiaries. And the sooner we start, the better. This can be a daunting task, so putting it off only makes it worse.

It’s vital we keep records that are accessible. Store them on a device that your heirs can access easily, ideally without the need of a password. Alternatively, it could mean printing it out and storing it somewhere secure, such as in a fireproof safe or in a safe deposit box at your bank.

In most situations, a spreadsheet may be the best tool to capture this information, but use whatever tool works best for you. Ultimately, your heirs will be grateful for any information you leave them.

Financial Fixtures

Create a list of the regular monthly payments you receive into your writing bank account and any important monthly subscriptions. While this information will be on bank statements, if you keep them in your banking app, or don’t download them, your executor and heirs won’t have access to this information.

List the regular payments and highlight the important ones heirs should focus on first. Don’t lose your mailing list data because of a frozen bank account and a cancelled direct debit.

Password Predicaments

We should remember that the only method of contact these platforms often have is our email address. So if our executor or heirs can’t access our emails, that will make things more complicated. 

One workaround may be to create a master list of usernames and passwords, which some people already have as a memory aide for themselves. However, for security reasons, this document should be password protected, and the password needs to be somewhere where an executor or heir can find it when needed.

An alternative to this is to use a dedicated password manager programme, like or offers a free version for one device, which may be ideal for your writing computer. Again, though, if your writing computer has a password, you need to let heirs know what it is so they can access your computer in the first instance.

Be aware that sharing usernames and passwords may break the terms and conditions of many online accounts, though.

Non-Writer Knowledge

While we may log-in to all these accounts regularly, I know my family does not know about many of them. They know my books are on Amazon, but not that I self-publish on Apple, Kobo or Google Play. They don’t know I buy my ISBNs from Neilson, register them with the Neilson Title Editor, and send a digital copy of my books to the British Library.

When we die, all this knowledge is lost, unless we do something about it now. Put yourself into your executor’s or heirs’ shoes for a moment and imagine how they will feel. Not only will they be grieving over your loss, but they’ll also be trying to work out how to deal with your writing business.

Intellectual Inventory

Create a list of all your writing assets. List all the formats your books are available in (ebook, paperback, hardback, audiobook, large print, etc), including out-of-print ones. For traditionally published books, identify which publishers have the rights to publish them, in which formats, and in which countries. For self-published books, list which platforms they’re available on, and the formats.

Your intellectual property also includes every article, short story, poem, and blog post you’ve ever written. Focus on the big projects first—books, poetry collections, stage plays, radio and television work, and then expand from there.

Internet Interpretation

Create another spreadsheet, or list, identifying every website you have an account with, and why you use it. Again, think about this from your heirs’ perspective. They may not recognise Canva, IngramSpark, Amazon KDP, Author Central, or BookBub if they see emails from them in your account..

A list detailing the website, followed by a brief explanation of why you use it, will be extremely useful to anyone dealing with your estate. For example, an entry for IngramSpark might look like this: I use this print-on-demand service to fulfil requests for paperback copies of my self-published books from book retailers like Waterstones and independent bookshops, as well as libraries. This is also where I order my paperback copies to sell at author events.

Go through your Internet browser’s bookmarks and catalogue everything you have. Remember, your heirs may not initially understand why your mailing list is a vital asset, but if they intend to continue marketing your books and your writing, they’ll need to know where to find this data.

Make a special mention of websites that will continue generating an income after you’ve passed, such as PLR (Public Lending Right) and ALCS (Authors Licensing and Collecting Society). Even if your heirs decide not to continue your writing business, these organisations may continue paying out for years to come.

Website Woes

If you have a website and a domain name, it’s imperative your executor keeps these active and maintains payments if your heirs want to continue your writing business. Both enable readers to find you and your writing. Lose a domain name and it may not be possible for your estate to get it back. If your website closes, any links on social media posts pointing to it will no longer work.

Make a list of all the domain names you have, who they’re registered with, and explain the importance of keeping the website up and running. File it with your other paperwork for your executor and heirs.

Social Media

Some social media platforms, like Facebook, allow you to appoint a legacy contact. You can choose a trusted person to manage your account after you die. They can make changes to your profile, write a pinned post, and respond to friend requests. Note, though, that they cannot manage your Facebook Ads.

Again, create a list of the social media platforms you have accounts with. Take time now to review them, including those platforms you haven’t used for years. Do you still need them? Balance the need to keep the account to retain your social media handle against whether you’re ever going to use the platform again. If not, close the account now. Don’t leave it for your heirs to sort out.

Death Defying

More platforms are establishing policies and procedures for what happens to an account upon a customer’s death, so do some research now. Visit the websites you have accounts with and search their help pages for phrases like customer death or deceased account holders and find out what the policy is.

Amazon KDP will allow heirs to take over your account, but only when the heir has provided your death certificate and evidence that they are entitled to access your account. Even so, Amazon KDP will require your heir to set up their own KDP account first, which they’ll then use to access to your existing KDP account.

Successor Support

Tell heirs, beneficiaries, and executors about where they can find help after your death. Leave them written information, or talk to them beforehand. Heirs and estates can join the Society of Authors. If you have an agent, make sure your heirs know who they are and how to contact them.

It’s because so much of our lives and our writing business is online that our heirs and beneficiaries will have so much to do when we pass. Therefore, anything we can do now to make this process easier will benefit our writing business in the long run, as well as our beneficiaries, too.

We might come to an end, but our words and characters can live on.

Business Directory – Author Estate Resources

Society of Authors: Guidance On Your Copyright and Papers After Death

Alliance of Independent Authors – The Author Estate Handbook: How To Organise Your Affairs and Leave A Legacy by ML Ronn

The Author Heir Handbook: How To Manage An Author Estate by ML Ronn

© Simon Whaley