estate planning for artists

Estate Planning

It is important to know how you want others to handle your estate and the artwork that you will leave behind. Organizing the work and the information about the work will ensure that it is not lost or destroyed. Some organizations work with older artists to help them with estate planning. Consider hiring a young artist or student to help you enter art data into a computer, and scan older slides and photos. Contact local service organizations to see if they have a service near you.


Typically, working artists produce a large amount of work over the course of their career and lifetime. It is never too soon to consider what to do with your artwork and artistic legacy. Imagine what would happen to your work if you did not plan ahead. How you treat your artwork can affect its value and marketability for the rest of your life and beyond.

Lots of artists do not consider this important aspect of their careers until much later in their lives. The idea of making a will can be off-putting, but if you value your work, you should read this segment and begin to think about your long-term plans.

Your Estate Planning

Creating a good estate and financial plan is an excellent way to start. Your financial security and the preservation of your assets for future generations should be in place by the time you reach 50 years of age.

Do you have a will?

Is your will up-to-date or less than five years old? It is important to keep your documents up-to-date because important decisions and the people involved in your estate can and do change.

Are there any changes in your life that would change the circumstances of your will? 

Do you know your financial status and the debts/surpluses you would leave behind?

Keep a list of where all of your important financial information and documents are stored, and give a copy to someone you trust.

How to Start

Document and inventory all of your work and enter it into your Artwork Inventory. This includes art at home, in your studio, storage areas, galleries, and on display at outside locations. Include all artwork you have ever made, as well as work owned by collectors, so it will be easy to find your work in the future in case you will ever have a retrospective.

Artists often amass a collection of artwork by other artists, friends, and colleagues. You should treat this collection with the same professionalism as your own work. Archive this work, maintain accurate records, and have a plan in place for this work should something happen to you at a later date.

Organize all information related to your art and your career as an artist, including notes, show reviews, photographs, invoices, personal journals, and correspondences from artists, friends, dealers, and collectors. 

Sign, date, and title all your artwork legibly.

Price your work, or get an appraisal.

Have a marketing plan for your work after you’re gone.

Assign an executor. Find someone you trust and make sure she/he is willing to take on this role. 

Assign a power of attorney. In the unlikely event that you are incapacitated and unable to make decisions regarding your estate, you need to assign a power of attorney. Select the person you can trust to make decisions both medically and professionally in your proxy. Many people prepare for when they pass away but do not plan for situations where they need someone to be a voice during a trying medical issue.

Make sure the executor knows where things are stored, and how to find complete contact information for your dealers, representatives, and agents. It is crucial to explain to the executor how to work with these people. If you have not found someone with art business experience to represent or handle your art, now is a good time to start looking.

Make sure your executor, heirs, dealers, agents, and representatives understand what you want to do with your art (without trying to micro manage). Never assume that people automatically know what to do. Put your preferences in writing. 

Give all concerned parties opportunities to ask questions, offer opinions, and make suggestions regarding the future of your art and your legacy as an artist.

Leave clear instructions on how your art is to be divided among family members, institutions, galleries, and other relevant parties. Make sure that everyone understands what they are going to get and, if necessary, why they are getting it.

Feel free to share this article with other artists.

You can also get our popular book for artists, Getting Your Sh*t Together: The Ultimate Business Manual for Every Practicing Artist, which includes all of this information and more here.