Fairfax, VA (Law Firm Newswire) August 23, 2017 – Last fall, the famous playwright, Edward Albee, died. His last wish, expressed in his will, requests his two friends to destroy any unfinished manuscripts he left. The direction was filed by Albee in Long Island, New York, where he resided and died.
While it is exceptional, it is not without precedent. Such instructions are referred to as dead hand control. Other artists, including Frank Kafka and a Beastie Boy, have tried to include these kinds of directions in their wills.
Virginia estate planning attorney Lisa McDevitt, states “Artistic control encompasses more than the capacity to create a work of art. It also includes the ability of the artist to choose which works of art to share with the world.”
For the time being, it is unknown what, if any, effect Albee’s preferences will have. The executors of the will are two of his longtime friends, Arnold Toren, an accountant, and William Katz, a designer. Both refused to respond to any inquiries on the subject. They would not reveal whether any papers had already been destroyed.
However, the executors have implemented elements of Albee’s will. His estate requested that Sotheby’s auction off over 100 works of art that Albee collected. The proceeds are valued at over $9 million, and will benefit his foundation, which was named after him. His foundation, which is the principal beneficiary of his estate, keeps a residence for artists in Montauk, New York.
The executors have made clear they plan to honor Albee’s wishes despite the debate they have created. Currently, at issue are the most recent versions of Albee’s last known project, entitled “Laying an Egg,” which is about a middle-aged woman who tries to become pregnant. The play was scheduled to be produced two times at the Signature Theater, an Off Broadway nonprofit in New York, and was withdrawn two times by Albee, who decided it was not ready.
Nevertheless, even if the executors destroy Albee’s drafts, other duplicates may be in existence. For instance, a Broadway producer named Elizabeth Ireland McCann, said she was in possession of a partial account of the script. However, it is unclear whether Albee left any other unfinished manuscripts, or whether the wording of the will could be construed to apply to initial drafts of his plays that were already published.
A provision of the will that has the potential for causing complications is one that states it is within the discretion of the executors to decide which of his works qualifies as unfinished, and is therefore covered by the destruction direction.
Many artists support Albee's right to determine the posthumous handling of his writings. However, attorneys who study the relationship between estate law and intellectual property say there have been several cases of heirs who make their own decisions about deceased artists, even if those decisions are in conflict with the wishes of the deceased. While some heirs may feel obligated to do as the will requested, they may also feel compelled to do what they think is in the best interest for preserving the art.
Lisa Lane McDevitt
2155 Bonaventure Drive
Vienna, VA 22181