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Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Estate planning for artwork would have helped Toller Cranston's family

I've blogged before about how artists (defined as anyone who creates original works, whether those are paintings, drawings, literature, dance routines, film, sculpture, etc.) need to give some guidance to their executors about dealing with their creations.

Without this specific guidance, there is a big risk that the executor and the beneficiaries may disagree on what to do with the creations. The executor has to do what is best for the estate. But what if the beneficiaries don't agree with the executors decisions? In the absence of instructions, these disputes can get out of hand.

I was reminded of this when I came across an article by Diane Vieira, who is one of the bloggers at Ms. Vieira was talking about the estate of Toller Cranston. Most Canadians will remember him as a champion figure skater, but he was also a talented artist who left behind many works of art. Unfortunately, Mr. Cranston did not leave a will. You can read Ms. Vieira's article by clicking here.

A dispute broke out in the family because his sister, who was acting as executor, was selling some of the artwork through galleries. Some family members felt they should be able to simply have the paintings and do as they like with them. Normally it's an executor's job to decide what to do with specific estate assets and to determine whether they should be sold, distributed as they are, or divided up in some way.

All of this got out of hand, as estate disputes tend to do. When the beneficiaries couldn't get what they wanted, they brought an application to remove the executor and replace her with a neutral administrator. The executor brought an application to pass her own accounts, even while the family members were bringing their own application to compel her to pass accounts. It became an unholy mess that is costing the estate tens of thousands of dollars, taking years to finish, and ruining any chance of this family ever getting past the negative feelings being stirred up.

Ms. Vieira recommends in her article, and I wholeheartedly agree, that artists of all types should give some thought to how someone should deal with these matters. And I suggest the thought process should go beyond simply who gets to keep something. Writers should give instructions about whether unpublished manuscripts can be published, and whether published materials can be edited or rights sold. Painters, film-makers, and photographers should give instructions about whether works can be reproduced, sold, or exhibited, and what happens to unfinished works. And always remember to say who gets to keep royalties!

The attached photo of Toller Cranston in 1974 is credited to Doug Ball/The Canadian Press, via The Associated Press.

1 comment:

  1. I am amazed at the number of people, especially high-net-worth individuals that do not have 'wills'.

    My view. Perhaps we are going about this the wrong way when it comes to Estates with no 'wills'?
    Perhaps these cases should be handled by a 'Court Administration Review Board for Estates With No Wills'. This way, the heirs get the best advice available as to how to proceed. Everything is on the table and transparent to all. If the heirs cannot agree as to what to do by a certain date then all of Cranston's works are sold on the open market one way or another. As to licensing deals, open up a trust account and every year, and each heir gets 1/3 of the earnings.



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