By Hanna Tudor
“I have this dream my daughter-in-law kills me for the money
She thinks I left them in the will,
The family gathers ’round and reads it
And then someone screams out
“She’s laughing up at us from hell!”…”
~Taylor Swift, from “Anti-Hero” (2022)
In Taylor Swift’s 2022 track and visual “Anti-Hero”, the viewer is invited to the artist’s deepest intrusive thoughts and fears as viewers are taken to her “funeral” while she sings of her heirs reading her will. While Swift’s slightly satirical, but very real nightmarish skit is a fun play on the artist’s personal fears within inheritance and wills, her point poses an interesting question. But in all seriousness, what happens to artist’s estates, copyrights, and originals when they die?
The subject of inheritance continues to be a focal point in many artists’ legacies. Family feuds, severed ties, and convoluted legacies can often end as a result. While we see these stories take shape globally from Picasso to Rothko, the artist and children’s book illustrator Tasha Tudor (Aug 28, 1918 – June 18, 2008) specifically comes to mind as her legacy was built on the foundation of family and the peaceful whims of a cottage-core lifestyle.
Tasha Tudor – Select Biography and Works
Tasha Tudor was born and raised in New England, a location that set the stage for playful imaginative children’s book stories with beautiful sceneries inspired by living in the countryside. She began her work with stories like “Pumpkin Moonshine” and eventually went on to illustrate popular novels such as The Secret Garden and The Little Princess by Frances Hodges Burnett. Her works of art carried a whimsical air that continued into over one hundred of her published illustrations. She also found other mediums to curate this idealistic imaginative lifestyle into her reality specifically through her motherhood and raising her family. Many of the magazines and stories she created were based on the reality of her own life she created in her home and with her children. From marionette shows, to holiday festivities, this lifestyle was ingrained into not only her art, but her everyday being.
Tasha Tudor’s legacy and brand was built off of the idea of childhood, love of nature, and homemade living. She always thought of creative ways to entertain her family, even designing several small magazines where her children could buy clothing items and other things by trading buttons as money. Many of the illustrations also drew from personal memories such as pushing a flowered cake down the creek for birthday celebrations. While her and her family of five grew up with the animals on the farm, making homemade recipes, and living the naturist lifestyle she curated, she eventually translated all of these collective works through her illustrations, cookbook, fan magazines (Take Joy!), documentaries, and the Corgiville world. She brought her home to life for her fans as she toured and released monthly articles that inspired those around the world with her way of living.
The Case: Estate and Family Feuds
While Tasha Tudor’s literary and visual world evoked a charming and harmonious imagery, the later years of her family’s everyday life and connection to her saw otherwise. In 2008, after the artist’s death at the age of 92 in Marlboro, Vermont, questions arose over the ownership of her art and the $2-million-dollar estate that was originally built by her two sons, Thomas and Seth Tudor. This began a relentless dispute between her four children. Her eldest son, main caretaker, and the current director of the majority of her lifestyle and artwork record keeping, Seth Tudor, inherited a large portion of her original artwork and copyrights, as well as her estate, while the remaining children were “disinherited.” $1,000 USD was given to both of her daughters, Efner and Bethany Tudor, and a vintage highboy was given to her youngest son, Thomas Tudor. While the original will in 2001 divided up all her works, originals, and properties between her sons and her grandson, the amended will in 2002 left most of the estate and copyrights to her son Seth.
Her second son Thomas Tudor noticed changes in his mother’s will, he contested these changes in court, claiming his older brother Seth Tudor unduly influenced their elderly mother in her later years. The defense argued that the will was just and fair, having only been changed due to disinheritance. Thomas Tudor rebutted, noting key witnesses from his sisters to a close friend of Tasha Tudor’s argued that communication to reach Tasha Tudor had been cut off and that Seth was profiting off her legacy. The suit lasted for two years and was meant to be directed to a Probate Court Trial in Vermont, but in turn eventually led to a private settlement. Thomas Tudor drew objections from the will and estate after the settlement and a judge-ordered division of Tasha Tudor’s ashes were cut in half between family members. Currently, Seth Tudor and his family continue to run the estate as a museum and integrate her legacy and lifestyle through their own life in order to promote her world.
How to Protect and Plan for Estate and Copyright
While this family-filled estate drama seems intensely specific, it is a very common occurrence amongst artists. Although family feuds often go much deeper than the division of an estate, there are some important preventative steps to conflict and ways that artists can continue to cultivate their legacy. While settlements are the “ideal” case in terms of legal battles and family affairs, cases do not always end in this way. During will planning, artists may want to consult lawyers, such as estate lawyer Matthew Erskine, on both how to create more clarity so as to avoid feuds in the planning process and how to clearly manage the legacy of the artist after their death. In an interview conducted with Matthe Erskine, on Tuesday October, 11, 2022, Erskine provided important advice on beneficial ways to navigate this common issue, it is necessary to prepare and meet with a lawyer who can help organize and map out the process of copyright and estate transfer in order to minimize contention between family members, organizations, and other actors such as gallerists. He also suggests considering a transfer of the originals and copyrights by forming a publishing company with a Limited Liability Company (LLC) in order to avoid complicated and lengthy bureaucratic processes. This allows beneficiaries to pool resources to manage, assign shares in the company, and access certain royalties that one gets as the publisher. Artists should never contract away their intellectual property, moral rights, or copyrights. While these copyrights can be licensed, they cannot be transferred unless noted so in the will. “Copyrights may also be bequeathed by will in whole or in part and may pass as personal property by applicable laws of intestate succession”.
This calls into question one of the next important measures that Erskine mentioned, which is archival procedure and ensuring that all pieces are preserved and possible making them more available to the public. As families inherit copyrights or estates, some things to consider with both the archival processes and preservational work is to reach out to museums, galleries, or large archival institutions such as the library of congress in order to bring light to the works of art. Archival procedures become key to the maintenance of the artist’s legacy. As we are deep in the digitized era and metaverses, it is important for artists to find organized ways to record, keep, and memorialize their work digitally. While the process of archiving and organizing can be daunting in an artist’s life work, it is this procedure that can prevent fallout. Resources such as the Center of Art Law’s Artist Legacy Clinic can be helpful in this aspect of estate and copyright planning. Especially in a time where art is often considered in digital spaces and re-molding through this element, it is important that artists ensure their legacy remains how they wish it to be represented to the best of their abilities through thorough copyright and estate planning.
Family feuds and relations will always be a particularly tender subject that adds an extra layer to will and estate planning. As Taylor Swift mentions in her song “Anti-Hero”, this can be a recurring and very real nightmare. While this process can be very layered and complex, there are nuanced and effective ways for artists to organize and archive this process. It is always in the artist’s best interest to seek professional advice as soon as possible to both archive and protect the legacy of the work. When an artist dies, the will is what remains of the legacy; In order to protect this, turning to a professional can help guide an artist through the many obstacles or legalese, complicated legislation, state specific and global specific statues, as well as convoluted familial affairs. Through the work of lawyers and programs such as the Artist Legacy Clinic here at our center, provide a great first step in maintaining legacy and planning for the future. It is the work of art professionals generally that secure the wishes of artists while they are still living, thus preserving their interests well before their passing. In doing so, artists will have no need to worry about those dreading nightmares of family fights breaking out over the will becoming reality. Ironclad estate planning and legacy protection will create the clarity and transparency needed to keep the art alive and well for years to come.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hanna Tudor is currently in graduate school at New York University studying Art Politics and Public Policy. She majored in Art History & Visual Culture as well as Political Science, which drew her towards the field of Art Law. She is the granddaughter of the artist mentioned, Tasha Tudor. A majority of this article is first hand information, but any additional information will be listed above and in suggested readings. Her love for art law is centered on its ability to strengthen artist voices and create bridges to protect those who are vulnerable to the institutions that attack certain salient rights to creative expression and cultural heritage
- The author of this article is the granddaughter of Artist mentioned, Tasha Tudor ↑
- Curren, John. “Sons of VT. Author Settle Over Her $2 Million Dollar Estate”, BOSTON.COM, Nov. 9, 2010, accessed. http://archive.boston.com/news/local/vermont/articles/2010/11/09/sons_of_vt_author_settle_fight_over_her_2m_estate/ ↑
“Tasha Tudor’s Heirs Squabble Over Will”, CBS NEWS, Feb. 22, 2010, accessed https://www.cbsnews.com/news/tasha-tudors-heirs-squabble-over-will/ ↑
- Ibid. ↑
- Office, U.S. Copyright. “Fair Use (FAQ): U.S. Copyright Office.” Fair Use (FAQ) | U.S. Copyright Office. Accessed January 12, 2023. https://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/faq-fairuse.html. ↑
“Transfer Copyright Ownership.” Copyright Alliance, June 30, 2022. https://copyrightalliance.org/education/copyright-law-explained/copyright-transfers/transfer-copyright-ownership/#:~:text=Rights%20can%20be%20transferred%20by,applicable%20laws%20of%20intestate%20succession. ↑
Bart. “Archives Preservation – Copyright.” CopyrightUser, April 25, 2020. https://www.copyrightuser.org/educate/intermediaries/archives/. ↑
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