Estate planning can be a difficult subject for anyone. No one likes to think about how or when life might end. From the technicalities of financial planning to the emotional issues of choosing beneficiaries and considering end-of-life care, the entire process is a daunting task.

However, estate planning is an essential process both for the future and for your current artistic practice. Consider for a moment- if you had passed away last week, would your loved ones have known what to do with your artwork? Your equipment? Your studio? Come to think of it, do you know what you would want done?

Estate planning provides an opportunity to think seriously about the future, for yourself, your loved ones, and your legacy. Some thoughtful, careful planning now can have real benefits for the present and in the long term. Additionally, sorting out an estate after the fact can be quite expensive. Work that you do now will make it easier and more efficient for your executor, leaving more funds available for your beneficiaries and more support for your plans.

The Arts & Business Council, and its Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts program, is committed to helping artists protect their work and plan for their legacy. To further this mission, we have partnered with the Joan Mitchell Foundation, which shares our commitment to supporting artists in this process. Creating a Living Legacy (CALL) is an initiative of the Joan Mitchell Foundation designed to provide support to mature artists in the areas of studio organization, archiving, inventory management, and through this work create a comprehensive and usable documentation of their artworks and careers.

With the objective of supporting artists in protecting their own cultural legacies, the Foundation expanded the CALL Program in 2013 by partnering with Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts of Massachusetts to design Creating A Lasting Legacy: Estate Planning Workbook for Visual Artists. The workbook presents the artist with the tools to ensure that their legacies, preserved in their own voices, will last into perpetuity.

This workbook will help you navigate many of these important issues. There is plenty of information available about estate planning, perhaps even too much information. Here we attempt to distill much of that information in an effort to go from abstract ideas to actual implementation. We want to give you the tools you need to have meaningful discussions with your loved ones, with an estate planning attorney, and those who will help implement your plan; to think seriously about your legacy and to take steps now that will make a difference.

This workbook is not intended to replace the services and advice of an attorney. We cannot elaborate on every possible option for your estate or account for all the particular details of your needs and wishes. Please keep in mind, too, that there are differences in the law from state to state and tax laws constantly change, requiring plans to be updated from time to time. You will want to speak with an expert to be sure your plan accomplishes all that you intend under the laws of your state.

There are many reasons that artists may put off speaking with an attorney. Perhaps you don’t feel “done” yet. You may be thinking, “I’m not rich or famous enough to need an estate plan” or “I have too much else to do- I’ll think about that tomorrow.” Maybe you simply do not know where to begin. One of the most important steps is simply starting the process. Our goal is that this workbook will help you build a team, get started, and alleviate some of those worries.

The bottom line is that it is neither too early nor too late for you to begin this process. But it’s time to get started.
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By Megan Low