From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:
When Philip K. Dick died at the age of 53, he was a middlingly successful science fiction writer. Only the faithful had heard of him—I had, being involved only peripherally in the sf community at the time—but most people hadn’t heard of him at all. Most of his novels and short stories were out of print.
A film of his short novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, was under production and not only did the filmmakers change the title, Dick wasn’t real fond of the script.
Dick had two strokes in February and was taken off life-support in early March of 1982. On June 25, 1982, Blade Runner, staring Harrison Ford and Rutger Hauer,debuted to mixed reviews and fantastic word of mouth. From that moment on, Philip K. Dick the author became one of Hollywood’s and publishing’s hottest properties. The New York Times said that so many movies were being made from Dick’s work that it had become “a cottage industry” and by 2007, more than 30 of Dick’s novels and “scores” of his short stories had come back into print.
. . . .
You cannot predict the future. (And, for you Dick fans, reality isn’t real. But you knew that. Sorry. I digress.) You have no idea if that drooling fan boy in the corner will grow up to be one of Hollywood’s biggest directors and will want your novel, which he read at 12, to be his latest blockbuster film. Or if that gamer who approaches you with an offer to pay you a small pittance for your “world” will turn that world into one of the biggest games of the decade, with all the marketing spin-offs that entails.
Nor do you know whether or not you’ll live to see any of it.
. . . .
What I am going to talk with you about is this: your writing. Unlike your house, which can be sold if the person who inherits it doesn’t want it, your writing is a burden that your beneficiaries must make decisions about even if they don’t want to.
For example, you’ve devised a simple will, naming your closest relative—your cousin Doofy—as your beneficiary. You didn’t tell Doofy. Then you die. He’s happy to get the money. He sells your house for a tidy profit. He has no idea what to do about that writing stuff, so he ignores it.
Then Super Really Big Director, you know, the kid from the previous made-up anecdote, decides he wants your book My First Novel into his next film. In tracking down the rights, his very good (and expensive) legal team figures out that you’re dead and your entire estate went to Doofy. They contact Doofy, offer him what seems like tons o’money to Doofy (maybe $50,000) for the rights to My First Novel. Doofy doesn’t care. He signs it all away, along with book rights, etc.
And My First Novel lives on in perpetuity. The rest of your novels—all 35 of them—are too much for Doofy to handle even if he knew how, and they die a quick obscure death. Doofy only saw that $50,000, and doesn’t realize that had he hired a lawyer to negotiate his side of the contract, he would have made so much more. My First Novel goes out of print, but the movie made from it A Novel Filmbecomes a classic and no one knows that it came from an obscure little book, except cinephiles who read every word of the scrolling credits at the end of a film.
A Novel Film ended up having nothing to do with My First Novel besides the spark. Unlike the Dick estate, your estate did not maximize your 15 minutes of fame, and your work is now lost forever.
. . . .
One option a lot of writers and entertainers use is this: They give a one-time (large) cash inheritance to family members, bestow real property (from houses to jewelry and collectibles) on those family members, and give the copyrights and their management to a charity or a variety of charities. People who have no family have similar options.
Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch