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Copyright after you die

Your copyright lasts for your lifetime, and for 70 years after you die. It is important that you make arrangements for how your works and rights should be used and protected after you die. One way of doing this is in your Will, so your wishes about what happens to your works and rights will be respected.

Get legal advice

Always consult a legal professional about writing or making a Will, as well as making changes to your Will.

The Law Society website

Planning for copyright in your Will

Copyright continues to apply for 70 years after an artist or creator dies. This is calculated from the end of the calendar year in which they died. For example, if the artist or creator died in May 2030, copyright would apply until 31 December 2100.

Anyone over the age of 18 can make a Will. Many people wait until later in life to make a Will, but it’s best not to put it off. However, some life changes can impact how valid your Will is, for example if you marry. Check with a legal professional if you are unsure about anything.

Find out more about visual arts copyright – read our guide

Specify a beneficiary for your copyright

A beneficiary is a person who you leave assets to in your Will. You can leave your copyright to:

  • one or more ‘natural’ person, like a family member or a friend
  • an organisation, including commercial and non-commercial business or institutions, like a museum or gallery
  • a charity, trust or administration that has been specially set up

To leave it to multiple beneficiaries:

  • leave the copyright in specific works to different individuals
  • specify a percentage share of copyright for different people or organisations

You can also make provisions in your Will about what should happen to your copyright after the person who inherited it from you dies. This can help to preserve your wishes further into the future.

How to leave instructions about copyright in your Will

We recommend getting legal advice when preparing your Will.

1. Make executors aware of any assigned rights

Leave information for executors of your Will about works that you’ve assigned or sold the copyright on. A comprehensive list detailing who owns the copyright for each of your works is ideal. Over your career, you might have worked on commission and assigned copyright under the terms of the contract, or been an employed artist, giving up copyright to your employer.

2. Detail whether you’re leaving the copyright for a work alongside the work itself, or whether you’re making separate provisions

The physical work and its copyright are distinct from each other. This means leaving a work to an individual or organisation does not mean they will be entitled to the copyright.

3. Indicate who you are leaving Artist’s Resale Right (ARR) to

Since you will die after 14 February 2006, ARR for your works will be a separate asset from copyright. You can leave your ARR to 1 person or you can leave it to multiple people by specifying a percentage share for each of them. Different rules apply when leaving ARR to someone in your Will; this means that you can only pass your ARR on to a ‘natural person’ (like a family member or friend) or a charity, but not other organisations like commercial businesses.

4. Clearly name copyright beneficiaries

Make specific bequests, naming the individuals or organisations who will inherit copyright for your works. This could be for each work. Or, you might decide to split copyright for all your works between particular persons – if so, state the percentages.

5. Consider all circumstances

Make provisions for the possibility that a beneficiary may die before you do. State who is entitled to copyright in the event that this happens. This will avoid uncertainty and best protect your wishes.

6. Be specific about use of your works

Include instructions about how your copyright is managed, that is whether and how beneficiaries can allow your work to be licensed. For example, you may not like your work to appear on gallery merchandise, like tote bags and umbrellas. Or you may not wish for it to be used by particular companies in their advertising.

Remember, copyright and ARR are separate assets, so you should refer to them both in your Will, even if the beneficiary is the same.

Find out how to plan what happens to your ARR after you die

If you don’t leave instructions in your Will about copyright

If you don't include specific instructions in your Will about copyright, there’s a risk that it will be interpreted, or that rules will be applied, in a way that doesn’t reflect your wishes.

What will happen depends in part on whether the work was published. Being published means the work has been featured in books, catalogues, magazines, newspapers or articles, including online. It can also include being in a self-published book.

If the work was published, there are two possible routes:

  • If it’s seen as reasonable to construe that the Will bequeaths copyright to a named beneficiary, then it will go to them.
  • If this is not seen as reasonable, the copyright will become part of the residual estate and pass to residual beneficiaries.

If the work was not published, it depends in part on who the physical unpublished work was left to. If there was a named beneficiary for the physical unpublished work, the copyright goes to them. If there was not a named beneficiary for the physical unpublished work, there are two possible routes:

  1. If it’s seen as reasonable to construe that the Will bequeaths copyright to a named beneficiary, then it will go to them.
  2. If this is not seen as reasonable, the copyright will become part of the residual estate and pass to residual beneficiaries.

If you do not leave a Will

Without a Will, you are less in control of what happens to your work after you die. If you do not leave a Will, in the UK ‘intestacy’ rules will be applied to your estate, including your copyright. These are legal rules to decide who the beneficiary is if someone dies without a Will.

Intestacy rules say that if you live in the UK and do not have a Will, all the assets in your sole name, including copyright, pass to your next of kin — usually your closest family members. If no next of kin are found, your assets may go to the Crown.

Learn more about intestacy rules on the GOV.UK website

Make a plan for your ARR

Find out how to plan what happens to your Artist's Resale Right and the associated royalties after you die.

Find out more


This content is a general guide to copyright after you die. It’s not exhaustive and is not legal advice. We recommend getting specialist advice for your specific circumstances.