Friday, January 4, 2013

Are We Entitled to Royalties from Outdoorsy Grandpa?

P.S. We miss John Candy! R.I.P.
Dear Rich: My grandfather was a legendary outdoorsman and outdoor writer. He died in the late 1970's with a will dividing his assets per stirpes. His books have continued to be published. His name and likeness have also been used to market various products, including commemorative guns, a non-profit museum, videos, and editions of magazines. Following his death, my mother received royalties from various publications. Since my mother's death six years ago, neither my brother nor I (we are the sole heirs) have received any royalty checks from the publishing companies, and so far as I know, no company or organization has ever offered any family member permission to use his likeness We are aware that my aunts and uncles have continued to receive checks from various publications. However, we are not close and do not know which publishers have been paying, or how much. We do not know if any companies are using his name and likeness Are my brother and I entitled to my mother's share of the royalties? Do any of my grandfather's heirs have any right to determine when his name and likeness may be used? Are we entitled to profits generated from such use? Your first step is to check your mother's will, and if there is no will, review your state inheritance law. If your mother inherited a share of your grandfather's royalties, you and your brother would be entitled to her share ... provided your mother's will passed those assets to both of you. If your mother had no written will, then most likely under laws of intestate succession, it would go to her children (assuming there is no spouse). (This intestate succession article provides more info on the process.)
If you inherited ... Your next step is research and documentation. If you and your brother inherited your mother's share, you will have some paperwork ahead of you. First, you need to determine the sources of the royalties. Then, you must contact the sources and provide them with appropriate documentation proving that you are entitled to the payments. This may require providing a death certificate as well as estate or probate documents (state laws differ) demonstrating you are the heirs. Most likely you will have to contact your mother's siblings.
As for the name and likeness ... Making money off your grandfather's name and likeness (from endorsements, etc.) depends on the contracts he signed while alive, the contracts signed after his death and state "right of publicity" laws -- some states provide for post-death rights, others do not. Again more research is needed. Possibly, somebody is coordinating these endorsements, and that most likely is one of your aunts or uncles, or someone appointed by them to manage these endorsements. Research is needed!

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