The Business Rusch: Ghosts of Writers Future
Earlier this week, I sat down with the pile of estate planning books I’d bought to prepare for this series of blog posts I’ll be doing on estate planning for writers. My plan is this: I’ll blog about this topic about once a month as I research it and as I determine how to improve the wills that Dean and I already have.
I wrote the first blog post on estate planning exactly one month ago—and I gave everyone who read it a homework assignment. By the end of the year, have a will in place. It doesn’t have to be the best will, but it should be a legal will for your state, so that your heirs at least have some idea what to do with your money, possessions, and most importantly for this blog, your copyrights.
If you haven’t read that post, please do. If you haven’t read the comments, go back and read those as well. Lots of great stuff there.
I want to take you all on this journey with me, because I’m learning too. I am not a lawyer (nor do I play one on TV), and when it comes to estate stuff, I’m as clueless as the next person. In fact, when our friend Bill Trojan died last August and Dean became the executor of the estate, I realized that our wills were woefully inadequate and probably not legal in the state of Oregon. We have adequate wills now, legal for our state, but they’re still not what we really want. I realized then that figuring out how to design our post-death careers would require more than just an average will. It would take some work.
So, on Monday, as I scattered the books around me, digging into the “Starting the Process” chapters, I kept getting out of the chair. I do that when I am overwhelmed. In addition to reading all of the material I needed to read, I also organized my important papers drawer (kinda), finished filling out some legal paperwork I’ve been putting off, and downloaded 8 ring- and/or alert-tones, 15 songs, and one newscast.
My phone is organized now, better than my important papers.
Part of what put me off is the tone of the “Plan Your Estate” books. You must do this, you must do that, you have to do this or all hell will break loose.
I don’t do well with you-musts, you-have-tos, and the-world-will-end if-you-don’ts. I generally challenge the speaker with reporter questions: do you have proof the world will end? How secure are you in the knowledge that x will happen if I don’t do y?
There were no speakers here, just books, and I could ignore them if I wanted to. The difference is that I no longer want to. I know that the mess Dean and I will leave if we die together is infinitely greater than the mess that Bill left when he died, and that took most of Dean’s year, a lot of our money, and some of Dean’s health to resolve.
I don’t want to do that to the people handling my estate. Unfortunately, if Dean and I both die tomorrow, I will do that, even though I have many more things done on the estate than I did at this time last year.
First thing I did (after I had downloaded about five ringtones and realized what I was avoiding) was haul out a legal pad and started to make lists.
Not of things to do—God knows, the books have enough of those—but of things I wanted to discuss in this blog, and things I wanted to consider for me and Dean.
I realized, as I was digging into the 1000+ pages of material in front of me that whatever I write about estates will have to be extremely general, because the circumstances that Dean and I are in are vastly different from those of most writers. Not just because we have had long careers, but also because we currently own five businesses—and only two of them are writing businesses.
We also have no children. Our familial heirs, the ones we’re close to, are all older than we are, and so our actual heirs will not be someone in the family at all. We own a lot of property, and we have to make other personal plans that most people will never face.
I decided, at that point, that these estate blogs would focus on two areas:Planning for Writers Planning for Small Business Owners
Not all small business owners are writers, but all writers are small business owners. If that sentence shocks you, well, then, you have a lot of catching up to do. You might want to poke around on this blog or get my Freelancer’s Survival Guide. Writing is a business, even though it doesn’t feel that way, and the sooner you realize that, the better for your career, and the better for your estate.
I deliberately titled the first post in this series “Want To Be Read 100 Years From Now? Here’s How,” because that’s what we’re talking about here.
If you don’t care what happens to everything you’ve written after you die, then don’t read any further. Whatever happens will happen, and you won’t be there to notice.
You’ll be in good company. As I poked around in those books, I was shocked to learn that Martin Luther King, Jr. died without a valid Last Will and Testament. Many people die without one (including Pablo Picasso and Sonny Bono), so that wasn’t what shocked me. What shocked me was this: given all the death threats Dr. King had, the near-misses that occurred, and the fact that he knew his life would be short, Dr. King had ample warning that he needed to provide for his wife and four children in the event of his death. Plus he had copyrights on his books and speeches that would live beyond his death. You’d think that someone around him would have urged him to take care of something so very fundamental.
But no one did. And now, as I look at the task in front of me, I’m getting an inkling as to why.
When you look at estate planning all at once, it seems impossible. It really does. It’s necessary, particularly if you have children. You need to provide for them after your death.
But we’re not going to talk about children or your vast wealth or your squabbling relatives here. We’re not going to worry about what happens to your dog or your grandmother’s $40,000 diamond bracelet that she stipulated should stay in the family.
We’re going to only consider your writing and your business.
Here’s the thing to remember:
Under U.S. Copyright Law, your copyrights remain the property of your estate for 70 years after your death. So if you die at 90 and your kids are in their sixties, and their kids are in their thirties, then a generation of people you either only know as babies or haven’t met yet will someday control your copyrights.
They will decide if your work remains in print, if someone can make a movie out of those works, or if those works can be put into holograms on the walls of spaceships.
In a discussion on Thanksgiving over the fact that 5’7” Tom Cruise will play 6’5” bruiser Jack Reacher, I mentioned Reacher author Lee Child’s response to the news. Child deftly dodged all the unpleasantness by saying, (and I’m paraphrasing), “What author wouldn’t like the number one star in the world to play his character on the big screen?”
Good point. Then Dean, a gleam in his eye, asked me how I’d feel if Tom Cruise played Smokey Dalton. For those of you who don’t know, Smokey Dalton, the hero of my six Kris Nelscott mystery novels, is big (although not as big as Reacher) and black. He’s also in the center of the Civil Rights Movement in the late 1960s.
I stuttered for a moment, thought about it, and then realized, with deep horror, that if I signed the wrong Hollywood deal, such a thing could easily happen. The very idea offended me—not because I don’t like Tom Cruise; I do—but because the role belongs to someone like Will Smith or Denzel Washington.
The point here is that I could hold firm on this no matter how much money someone offered me. My immediate heirs who know my wishes could as well. But what about that future generation, the one who (we can hope) doesn’t know civil rights violations from the Peloponnesian War and who doesn’t see a problem with someone like Tom Cruise playing Smokey Dalton?
When you consider that copyright exists for 70 years after your death, you have to start considering issues like this one.
Or let’s put it this way: seventy years ago was 1942. Did anyone back then even have a clue that telephones would be portable? Or that I could read an entire short story on a phone while I sat in a waiting room today? Or that television shows would be downloaded for free on a personal computer? Or that television shows existed?
Now, are you getting a clue as to what we writers are facing when we think about our work lasting past our deaths?
Okay. I’ve freaked you out. I’ve given you the should-haves, just like the books did. I’ll try to do very little of that.
What I decided in the middle of all that downloading and ringtoning is this: We’re going to start small here. I’m going to work this through in bite-size chunks. On the Business Rusch page, I’ve added a section for estates, so you can see what articles you missed.
I’m also going to take my own research for my own work in bite-sized chunks. Once I made that decision, I calmed way down. Unless I give up everything else in my life for a week, I can’t get all of this done immediately. So I’ll get it done slowly, since I have an adequate will in place.
What should you folks start with for your estate planning (after you get that adequate will in place)?
Copyright. Most of you folks don’t know it, don’t know you license it, probably didn’t even know that it’s a property right, or that it will continue long past your death. So learn that in bite-sized chunks too. Buy The Copyright Handbook from Nolo Press. Put it in the bathroom and read it when you’re trapped in there, alone, each and every day. Eventually, you will have read the entire thing and that’s a great place to start.
Then, you need to figure out one thing and one thing only:
After you die, what do you want for your writing?
Only you can answer this one, and the answer shouldn’t be vague. You need to make that decision first.
Then, once you’ve made that decision, you need to look at where your writing career stands right now, because what you decide for your future depends entirely on your present.
Let’s take a few general categories as an illustration of what I mean (and in here, I will talk about wills, but that’s a shorthand for whatever document you choose to govern your estate):
1. Beginning writer.
You don’t have a name yet, or much of a reputation. You might have published a few things, or you might not have. But you are dedicated to your craft. You spend all of your free time on writing and getting that writing published.
If you get hit by that proverbial bus tomorrow, what do you want your heirs to do? Do you want them to try to get your unpublished works into print? Do you want them to attempt to make you posthumously famous?
Or do you want them to let it go and not do anything?
If you want them to let it go and not do anything, I would advise this: Don’t mention that in the will. Because what happens if you have some significant success between the date you complete the will and the date you die? Your will instructs your heirs to abandon your career. Guess what they’re obligated to do? That’s right: nothing.
The thing is, if you die and you leave no instructions, nothing probably is what your heirs will do. So, if you don’t want them to pursue your writing career after your death, then don’t address your written works in your will.
All of that will change after you’ve got a bit of a name because of, well, see the next topic.
2. Traditionally published writer.
If you’re a traditionally published writer who has work in print, then you have an ongoing small business which your heirs must deal with. For example, you will have publishing contracts. Almost all of them state that in the case of your death, your heirs and assigns will be obligated by those contracts.
What if you die after you’ve turned a novel into your traditional publisher but before the novel comes out? Who goes over the copy edits? Who helps with the cover? Who receives the royalty payments (if any)?
If you have had a long career, you’ll have work that someone will want to reprint or might want to option for a movie. Who should that someone contact? Who makes the decision for the estate?
Ten years ago, I was asked to write a novel in a world created by a deceased author. His estate approved my outline, which the estate’s agent conducted an auction on with several interested booksellers. A movie company planned to sign on as well.
Large offers poured in. The offers got taken to the estate. At which point, the heirs (there were at least a dozen of them) did the math, and realized that, as individuals, the deals wouldn’t make them millionaires. So, three of the heirs said no. Even though three wasn’t even close to half, those three could block any deal they didn’t like.
All that work, all those people, all that potential (for backlist and everything else), gone because three heirs did not understand publishing. And because the deceased author didn’t put one person or one organization in charge of the decision-making for the estate.
Your published works will live beyond you. Readers will remember them, editors will love them, publishers might want them. Others might want them as well. But if you don’t deal with your writing in your will, then you have guaranteed one of two things:1. In the short term, your estate will be very, very, very messy. 2. In the long term, your writing will not be reprinted and will be forgotten.
Traditionally published writers have always had these issues with their estates, but now there’s a new problem. Indie publishing. Some writers have chosen to straddle the line between traditional publishing and indie publishing, putting a toehold in each. In those cases, both point 2 and point 3 below, will apply.
3. Indie publishing.
So…you’ve created e-books and print-on-demand books from your writings. You’ve put those books up on the current sites.
All well and good. The payments from sales will hit your account whether you’re alive or dead, and that income will be dealt with as part of your estate.
But who decides if the books should remain for sale? Who will handle any changes the books need to accommodate new formats or new regulations? Who will deal with any problems that arise through the various e-commerce sites?
And, if your work takes off, who will handle the auxiliary rights sales?
For example, right now your tulip mania mystery novel, set in the Dutch Golden Age, is merely a curiosity. You have a few fans, but nothing that suggests the book will take off.
But, for some reason, in 2035, the Dutch Golden Age becomes the hot property, and everyone wants stories set in 17th century Netherlands. Suddenly, everything about tulips, herring, and Calvinists is hot, including your book. Who do the movie people, the gaming people, and those folks putting holographic stories on spaceship walls contact for the rights to your now-famous novel? And, again, who makes the decisions for the estate?
You’ll need to know the answer to that before you start writing your estate plan.
4. Successful writers.
It doesn’t matter what flavor of writer you are—indie, traditional, or a hybrid of the two. You’ve become a success. You’re probably not J.K. Rowling, but you have fans worldwide. People love your work. They want more of it. They want to read everything you’ve done, and they want to read it in their language or see it on their movie screen or as a television sitcom.
You’re famous (well, famous as a writer, which means that a few people actually know your name and a smaller few can pronounce it). That fame just might grow—if you’re around to shepherd it with the publication of some more books, with the right kind of game deal, with a few graphic novels.
But that proverbial bus hunts you down and takes you out.
For many writers, that’s the end of everything. No more auxiliary rights, and books fall out of print because of badly designed estates.
But you have an adequate will (like I do) and you have heirs interested in maintaining the income from their now-lost famous relative. Is leaving them the estate, with a few instructions about copyrights, enough?
Not if you want to maintain or grow your brand after your death. You’ll need an estate plan that allows your heirs to continue to use your name, to figure out if a movie about a black detective should have a white actor in the lead role, and to decide what to do with existing properties.
Because there will be no more.
Or will there?
It might be wise for the estate to license novels set in your worlds or with your most famous characters. The Ian Fleming estate is doing that with the James Bond novels, and has done so for forty-four years now. There are copyright reasons for doing things like this, things I’m not going to get into here, except to remind you to learn copyright. Because how can your estate handle your copyrights if you don’t understand them yourself?
Do you have unpublished works? Do you want them published? Or do you want them burned? Sometimes that wish isn’t carried out by the estate. If that happens, are there consequences? Should there be?
For some of you, things like this are pie-in-the-sky dreams. For others, they’re things you’ve never considered and you should.
I’m not saying you need to address those things in your estate plan. I’m not saying you need to spell everything out in your will. But you need to consider all of this before you make any decisions at all.
Your first decision is whether or not you want an estate plan. Realize if you don’t have one, you’re guaranteeing the death of your writing and a real nightmare for whoever is responsible for your things after death.
If you decide to have an estate plan, then you’ll need to hire an attorney. Because copyright issues are too complicated for online services or do-it-yourself wills.
In future posts, we’ll deal with other things you should have in place before that first attorney visit. But this is plenty for now.
One other thing I’ll do on these posts is append a list of books and websites that have estate planning information. Please realize I’m learning this stuff too, so don’t take what I’m saying as gospel or that the links I’m giving below are the best links. I’d like to have other recommendations from the comments, as well.
I’ll expand on these links with each post. And they’ll follow the italicized section on all of the posts.
I’ll write more next month. I haven’t even gone through half of my notes from Monday night’s reading-ringtone session. As I said, there’s a lot to consider, and we’ll do it together.
I must confess: these blogs do benefit me. I probably wouldn’t be digging into this estate stuff in as organized a fashion as I’m doing without the knowledge that I have to communicate it here as well.
However, writing time is writing time, and I’m backed up on fiction projects. So I’m taking time away from them every week as I compose these blogs. I hope you’re getting some benefit from them.
If you are, please leave a tip on the way out.
“The Business Rusch: “Ghosts of Writers Future,” copyright © 2012 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.
Book/Website Estate Links
The Copyright Handbook, Stephen Fishman, Nolo Press
Guide To Wills and Estates, The American Bar Association
Plan Your Estate, Denis Clifford, Nolo Press
The Wall Street Journal Complete Estate Planning Guidebook, Rachel Emma Silverman
What Happens When An Author Dies? The Passive Voice blog
The 101 Biggest Estate Planning Mistakes, Herbert E. Nass
Thanks, Kris. I love your estate planning articles.
I’m having a little trouble figuring out the “homework” from this article. Last month was “make a will.” This one is, I think, “Figure out an estate plan for your writing before you visit an attorney” and, thanks to Marc Whipple, “Buy a fireproof safe.”
I can buy the fireproof safe, but I guess I need to do a lot more research before I visit an attorney.
BTW, I just read that you should also buy a waterproof safe, because water damage from the fire department can be more harmful than the fire itself.
The homework on this one, Melissa, is figure out if you really do want your work to survive your death, and in what way. Not develop an estate plan. Just very simple. What do you want to happen with your work (if anything) after you die.
Any fireproof document box should provide adequate protection from firefighting water, but delicate documents should be kept in a sealed bag in the safe, because due to the way they work they can get very damp inside if there is a fire. Of course, read the documentation for whatever box or safe you buy.
Hi Kris, this was definitely a lot to think about. Thanks for writing this.
Mainly, though, I just wanted to compliment you on your recent covers. The Black King and Season of Wonder are JUST GORGEOUS. Were these in-house from WMG? I’m agog. Congrats. 🙂
Thanks, Gael. Season of Wonders isn’t WMG. It’s from Prime Books, and I think it’s stunning. The Black King, though, is WMG, and I think it’s stunning too. I’m pleased with the cover so far. I also love the new Anniversary Day cover. 🙂 And glad I gave you lots to think about.
I am a lawyer, this is not legal advice. Consult an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction and familiar with the relevant law before making legal decisions.
Ms. Rusch has hit it right on the head with this general theme: Start with the big picture. To use a writerly metaphor, don’t try to write your will as if it were a novel you were going to knock out in one sitting. There are people who can do that, but you probably aren’t one. Instead, do like the writers so: do a treatment. 🙂 That is, try to sum up the general idea of what you want to happen in a paragraph or three, and then perhaps do a short outline based on that (you may not even need the outline if your estate is relatively simple.) Once you have that treatment you can start approaching the actual drafting of the “story” of your will (why do you think we call it a testament?) Trying to do it higgledy-piggledy one thing at a time is very frustrating and immediately makes the task look completely overwhelming.
I don’t draft wills as a general rule but I used to, and one of the things I made up was a Will Preparation questionnaire that doesn’t tell you what to do, it asks you things. The very first question is, “What, in general, do you want to happen to your possessions when you are gone?” Then it builds up, slowly and methodically, to the point where it asks very specific questions which hopefully, by that time, are easier to answer because you’ve got that big picture in your head. It’s really quite remarkable how that approach calms people down and makes them more willing to tackle the rather daunting and depressing task at hand.
Thanks, Marc. In my next post, I was going to link to some of those questionnaires online and let folks go with them, then modify one just for writers. Because it’ll be valuable for me too. 🙂 Much appreciated.
Not a writer but these posts have helped me in talking with friends who are authors who don’t know all this. And I get to point them to you as a source of knowledge. Estate planning an odd thing you don’t think about or maybe toss a quick will off and assume you have it under control.
Your posts do a very good job of showing it is just as complex as any other aspect of running a business and it explains why sadly so many authors disappear even when they left a solid backlist that could be published. ::sigh:: I am glad to see some estates are starting to get on the ball and publishing the backlists they manage. I was very pleasantly surprised to find Octavia Butler’s books available as ebooks now.
A side note is that I think of someone who only wants to go the traditional route as much like any day to day worker. They want to do their job and not worry about the rest though they do need to be aware of how their business and job is changing and stay on their toes. On the other claw if you have the hankering you can open your own business and go out on your own as a full self employed business person. IE independent publishing. The key being that there is nothing wrong with going either wrong. You do what is right for your personality.
The great thing is that a whole world of being your own boss has opened up that hadn’t been available. I actually sympathize a lot with the authors who want to stay the traditional route. A few years ago when I was out of work I had a perfect offer to assist me in starting my own computer support/repair business. Someone else would have provided me an office, phone, secretary, etc in return for a portion of the net profit. I turned them down after thinking hard about it because I’m just not built do do the 60+ hour weeks needed to start a business. But it was very tempting.
Thank you for the recommendations, Tom. I love your analogy. You’re very right about the trade-offs. Not everyone is suited to work 9-5 nor is everyone suited to freelance. And those are the differences you’re talking about. Each has its benefits and drawbacks. As long as you understand what they are, then you’ll do well. It’s being surprised that’s the problem–and I hope this blog prevents some folks from being surprised. Again, thanks.
Great post, Kris. I’m glad you are continuing in this vein. After your first post, I made an appointment with the attorney who did my will. We got together last week to discuss making an amendment to my trust and appointing a literary executor. So my homework is to figure out how I want this done. When I’ve done so, I will get back together with the attorney and move ahead. Thanks for making me think about something I hadn’t considered.
You’re welcome, Janet. I’m so glad you’re doing this, and I appreciate the short report.
Thank you, Kris, for looking into this for all of us. And thank you, Janet, for sharing that detail. We spent $1200 last January (right before my husband’s bypass surgery!) to get our wills done. We didn’t have any information at the time about how to handle the copyrights, so that is not specifically addressed in my will. I am not keen on the idea that I would have to have the whole thing done all over again once I do know what needs doing! Maybe an amendment plus literary executor might work. I’ll keep watching this space!
You’re welcome. Congrats on having a will done. That’s a great first step. Wills do need to be revised from time to time or at least reviewed to make sure all the provisions in place are ones you still want. (That book on 101 mistakes has some doozies about wills not being changed to reflect new realities.) So an amendment might work, or plan to take the time to figure out what you want and revise the will in a year or two. The basic parts will remain the same, but the new will should have the literary stuff too. If you don’t have any will, there’s a hurry to get this done. If you have one, then you have a little more time to revise, imho.
Your comment on the Ian Fleming Estate indirectly brings up another topic writers should consider, especially if their works start becoming more widely read – trademarks. And while copyrights do expire after a time (barring Congress playing along with Disney), trademarks don’t if they’re defended. This has allowed the Edgar Rice Burroughs estate to keep much tighter control over the Barsoom and Tarzan properties, despite many of the earliest works having gone into the public domain – the major characters have trademarks on them.
Thanks, Tara. Indeed. Trademarks are more expensive to acquire and maintain, so you should have a valuable property before considering getting one. The rules are tougher too. But if you do have such a property, then you need to consider this.
If I may correct something here without this being taken as legal advice (which it is not):
Trademarks are not “more expensive to acquiry and maintain” than are copyrights; in fact, they are less expensive for a very simple reason: Federal registration of a trademark is strictly optional.
A commercial entity (or certain kinds of nonprofit service entities) “acquires” a trademark by using it in commerce (with a few minor filips irrelevant to marks related to literary properties). The strength of the mark, the nature of the mark, and so on vary incredibly.
The biggest pitfall with trademarks is fan fiction. Really. Trademark differs from copyright in one critical respect: Trademark is a “must defend” system, in which the trademark holder must defend each and every infringement of the mark of which he/she/it is aware or should be aware… or risk losing the mark entirely.* And that means that proper protection of trademarks requires at minimum shaking a disapproving finger at fan fiction.
So my correction to Our Gracious Hostess’s comment would be that “trademarks are more expensive to register and more annoying to maintain than are copyrights.”
* Yes, this is precisely one of the old myths about copyright that was put forth by people who didn’t know what they were talking about, primarily as a scare tactic. Get used to it; there’s an awful lot of that around.
Thank you, C.E. I appreciate it. This is why I say I’m not a lawyer. I’m not, and am as prone to myths as the next person.
Fascinating stuff, as always. Thanks for all the effort to put this together.
I do have to admit, though, as a twenty-something global nomad who isn’t even sure which country he’s going to be living in in a year, let alone the state in which his will will be executed, it’s tempting to look at this as just “old fogey” stuff (IOW stuff for old people to worry about) and pretend like I can cover my ears and everything will be all right. After all, it seems that one of your base assumptions is that the person writing the will maintains a permanent residence somewhere.
So for a young up-and-coming writer who’s constantly on the move, where is the best place to start?
I assume you have a permanent address somewhere, Joe, for tax purposes, etc. That’s where you base your will (the state/country). Then leave a copy with the attorney who prepared it, have a copy with you, and let your heirs–whoever they may be–know where it is. Remember, you can always change this later, when you do settle on a place. But in the short term, you’re covered.
I know some lawyers frequent this blog. Agreements? Disagreements?
Without providing specific legal advice, that’s pretty much the only thing you can do for a person who moves around that much. Ideally they would “declare” a home address and try to structure around that as much as possible, but keep in mind that any jurisdiction where the testator had property, or some kind of connection, can always try to glom onto part of the estate. (If real property is located there, it’s more or less a given you’ll have to run through probate in that jurisdiction even if it’s investment property and the testator had no other ties there and had never even physically visited the place.)
As far as who should *have* the will, it’s usually a good idea to have the attorney who drafted it keep a copy, but IMO the “hero” copy, to borrow a metaphor from the movies, should be where the executor can get at it quickly. For a global nomad, that might mean leaving it with the executor, assuming the executor isn’t also a nomad. For a more traditional lifestyle, it can be left with the testator. In either case the executor needs to know where it is and how to get at it.
If you go to the trouble and expense of drafting a will, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE buy a fireproof document box to keep it in. It’s rare but it does happen that a will is destroyed in the very fire that causes it to mature. That is really adding insult to injury. Also, DON’T keep it in your safety deposit box. Upon the death of the lessee, various rules come into play which make it very difficult to get into a safety deposit box in many jurisdictions. The executor needs the will right away so they can go and get letters testamentary or whatever it is that gives them the authority to manage the estate from the probate court.
Great advice, Marc, and thanks for answering the specific question. That helps. If you have an advance directive or other health care documents, make sure the person who will activate those (if need be) has them as well.
Let me add a second to the safety-deposit-box warning. My mother had to race the newspaper delivery guy to the bank in order to get my grandfather’s will out of his safety deposit box. If the bankers had seen the death notice, it would have taken at least a week and a court order to get the will out of the box! Which is counterproductive, to say the least.
Not to mention, if the deceased has stopped paying on the box, then after a while it gets escheated to the state’s unclaimed property section. And, though laws/practices vary from state to state, papers with no salable value are often destroyed after a few years. That includes wills.
I highly HIGHLY recommend leaving a copy of the will on file with the local probate court for your home address. That way you know it’s safe, fairly easy to gain access to (you need a death certificate and some money, to start), and if people aren’t sure if you had a will, the probate court is a great place for them to remember to ask.