Estate Planning for Artists: A Glossary of Need-to-Know Terms

Dead artists leave two bodies, their own, and a body of work.” —Harriet Shorr, Artist

There’s no sugarcoating estate planning; it’s not easy to talk about and it’s no small feat, especially when you’re an artist. Makers leave behind a large, valuable, physical body of work that must be dealt with at their death.

As an artist, it’s imperative that you have a plan for your artworks so that you can control what happens to your assets and make sure you’re not leaving behind a big, convoluted mess for your loved ones to clean up, like properly sorting, storing, insuring and/or selling your works.

This post provides a list of key terms to help you navigate the ins-and-outs of estate planning.


Art Inventory

This should be a familiar term. An art inventory lists all of your works of art, their locations (studio, on loan, etc.), and descriptive information like dimensions, date, title, and medium. The inventory should also include installation and maintenance information, contracts, exhibition records, and intangible assets such as copyrights, trademarks, and other intellectual property.

Even if you don’t sell your artwork, a complete inventory of your work will help determine the monetary value of your artistic estate.


Attorney (aka Lawyer)

Estate planning for artists involves much more than just drafting a will. Ideally your attorney is someone you trust, is familiar with your work, and is knowledgeable about the art world along with the laws of trusts and estates.

Make your lawyer aware of your concerns whether they are avoiding estate taxes, providing income for your family, ensuring your work remains publicly accessible, etc.

Many states have a Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts division, which provides legal assistance and education for artists. Here’s an example of New York’s VLA.


Attorney(s)-In-Fact

A privately appointed fiduciary who handles your legal and financial matters in the event you become incapacitated or disabled, either temporarily or permanently. It can be a family member, friend, or professional fiduciary. It does not have to be an attorney.

What’s a fiduciary? Read below for the definition.


Beneficiary

The person(s) receiving the benefits of the deceased’s property, aka the trust.


Codicil

Document that amends a will.


Cultural Executor

Aka Art Advisor. This person is a legally-appointed representative responsible for representing and carrying out the wishes of the deceased with regards to their cultural property (e.g. artwork). It is a more specific type of executor (definition below). The cultural executor is ideally someone familiar with both the testator’s body of work and the art market for the work. Who is the testator? You! The artist.


Estate Tax

Federal tax on property (cash, real estate, stock, or other assets) transferred from deceased persons to their heirs.


Executor

The fundamental duty of the executor is executing the estate. If there are assets to be sold, the executor has to sell them. If your estate is owed money by galleries and such, the executor must collect it. The executor also pays bills like funeral expenses and income or estate taxes, and files insurance claims. The executor follows the instructions in your will and distributes the property in accordance with your wishes. The executor also chooses an appraiser to appraise your art work.

When choosing your executor, choose someone who is knowledgeable about the art world and sympathetic to your work. Make this person aware of your priorities. And, don’t be afraid to have multiple executors; it alleviates a lot of pressure.

An executor’s job usually lasts 3 to 4 years, but may last considerably longer if there are assets to dispose of or manage, such as copyright interests.  

Your executor bears the burden of sorting, cataloging, caring for, and disposing of your work and other assets if you don’t organize it beforehand. Find an online artwork management system and start organizing your artwork!


Fiduciary

Somebody who is charged with legal duty to act on behalf of somebody else, like trustees and executors.


Roadmap

Craft a roadmap for your executors to follow. This is like a “how-to” for your will.


Testator

The person making the will (aka, you).


Trust

It’s not just for the 1%. A trust is a legal entity created for the benefit of the testator’s designated beneficiaries. It is a living and breathing document that can stay private.

Revocable vs. Irrevocable Trust: You can change a revocable trust. You cannot amend an irrevocable trust once you set it up. So irrevocable trusts are rarely set up,  unless, you’re planning for Medicaid or life insurance.


Trustee

Privately appointed fiduciary who manages the assets in a trust. You can liken the Trustee to a CEO – (s)he runs the business, but does not own it.


Will

The document that states how you want your property to be disposed of at your death.

60% of people die without a will. If you pass away without a will, the State will govern how your property will be distributed. Generally, property goes to your family in this order: spouse & children > parents and sibling(s) > other relatives).


Stay tuned for more posts about estate planning!

8 Photo Editing Tips for Artists

Thanks to our recent post on photographing your artwork, you should have true-to-life depictions of your artwork. To make them polished and professional-looking, all you have to do is make a few easy adjustments in the “digital darkroom.” Here are 8 simple but effective photo editing tips to set you up for success!


Crop Your Image

Crop down your image so you see only the work, nothing more.

Remove the background and make sure you don’t crop into the edge of your works!

TIP: If your artwork was positioned slightly at an angle, a rectangular crop will not give you an even cut. Rotate the canvas of your photo editor to get the work on the proper axis to crop evenly.

In Preview: Drag your cursor over the work to outline your desired shape. Select “Crop” under Tools to crop image.


Correct Colors

Do your images’ whites look a bit yellowish or blueish? Despite your best efforts to adjust your white balance and avoid mixed light sources, the colors in your photo may still be a bit off when you view them on your computer. You can adjust color with the white balance, hue and saturation tools in your photo editor to accurately reflect the real-life colors of the work.


Adjust Brightness and Contrast

If you didn’t get your exposure right in-camera, fear not! You can easily adjust in your photo editor. If there was not enough light at the time you took the photo and your image is too dark, boost brightness.

Adjust the contrast filter if you have a detail shot or a 3D work that needs to showcase form.

In Lightroom: Exposure and Contrast are two sliding adjustments on the right tool bar.


Sharpen to Reduce Blur and Grain

Photo editing softwares like Lightroom and Photoshop will have a sharpening feature to reduce any blur or camera shake that may have occurred while taking the photo.

In Lightroom, the sharpening feature is on right side toolbar, under the Detail section.

If your ISO was set too high and your image is grainy, you can reduce the noise. The tool is also found under Detail.


Resize the Image

You’ll want to resize your photo to a smaller size and resolution so that you can quickly send your photos to potential buys and submit to juried shows and competitions.

Your photos come off your digital camera in large dimensions measured in pixels (px). Resize your image so that the longest side is at least 1920 pixels – that is the minimum size for online juried shows and a CaFÉ requirement.

Don’t forget to change the resolution! If your photo is only being used for the web, change the resolution to 72dpi. If it’s going to be printed, adjust the resolution to 300dpi.

DPI stands for dots per inch, and the higher the dpi, the better the photos will look when printed. But, if the dpi is too high and used on the web, your images will load much slower and slow down your website speed.

In Preview: Select “Adjust Size” under Tools. Make sure Scale proportionally and Resample image are both checked.


Save for Quality

Save your finished digital image as a TIFF or PSD so that you don’t lose any file quality. Save it again as a JPG if you will upload it to the internet.


Stay Organized

Make things easy for yourself and label each image consistently with detail. We suggest including title, medium, dimensions and year for the piece. Save yourself time later; no one wants to hunt through hundreds of images.


Backup Your Images

Go one step further and export your images to folders on your desktop, on a hard drive, and on the Cloud. Save batches in folders by year, medium, or theme. Don’t make me tell you the sad tale of a MacBook that died during grad school and the hundreds of lost photos.

Upload your photos to CaFÉ’s Portfolio so you have them ready for your submissions!

TIP: Artwork Archive is a powerful, easy-to-use cloud-based inventory system available for artists. Sign up for a 30-day free trial and start organizing and managing all of those great artworks in your collection!


A note on editing software: Most of the edits mentioned in this post can be made in free software like GIMP. Find more free editing tools in CaFÉ’s blog post. If you want more tools and features at your ready, invest in Adobe’s Lightroom and/or Photoshop. If you don’t want to drop that much cash, take a look at Photoshop Elements, a cheaper and lightweight version of its older siblings – Lightroom and Photoshop. Try them all with Adobe’s 7-day free trial.