Dispute Over Author’s Estate Brings Forward Planning Into Focus

Expert Calls For Public To Learn From Case Of Stieg Larsson

29.06.2011

The long-running dispute over the estate of author Stieg Larsson demonstrates clearly why authors and artists need to sit down and discuss the future of their affairs with their loved ones before it is too late, according to an expert at Irwin Mitchell.

Larsson, best known for his Millennium trilogy of books including The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, died without writing a Will in 2004 – several years before his novels, the first of which is being made into a feature film starring Daniel Craig as Mikael Blomqvist, went on to win acclaim from both critics and the wider public.

Despite living with Eva Gabrielsson, his partner for 32 years, up until his death, Swedish law dictated that Larsson’s estate – including rights to his work – should be placed under the control of his family despite him reportedly having little in the way of a relationship with them.

It is also thought that author’s father and brother have also chosen to limit the access that Gabrielsson has to Larsson’s estate, which has grown to be worth millions after reported book sales of 50 million.

Adam Draper, an associate solicitor in Irwin Mitchell’s Will, Trust and Estate Disputes team, said that such stories – in which people who seemingly have a stronger claim to an inheritance lose out – are sadly not uncommon.

Commenting on this scenario, he outlined: “While the huge success of Larsson’s books had not yet come to light when he died, this case highlights just why those involved in creative industries should think carefully about preparing a Will which highlights who they want to take control of the rights of their work when they pass away.

“It is possible that an issue like this could have turned out very differently if Larsson and his partner had discussed the future and his wishes for his estate from the outset, preparing a Will which would ensure that the state’s intestacy rules would not come into play.”

Mr Draper added that those involved in literature, music or similar areas should consider expert advice on how things could map out in the future.

He explained: “It is important for people who have rights to work to consider the possibility of future earnings and royalties which could be generated, as well how they would want such monies divided upon the event of their passing.

“Such cases also highlight the importance of sitting with loved ones and appointing an executor who can carry out any specific wishes on the division of assets when they become clearer.”

The expert went on to state that the case of Larsson is also a warning to those who are cohabiting about the importance of thinking about the future.

“It is a sad truth that, even though many people live together for a number of years without getting married, cohabitees are often left vulnerable when their loved ones pass away as they simply do not have similar rights to those who have tied the knot.”

A surviving cohabitee in England or Wales may have a claim for reasonable financial provision against the estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 and are advised to seek specialist legal advice at an early stage as claims under the act must be brought within 6 months of the Grant of Probate.

If you are involved in a will dispute or need further information about contesting a will, please visit our Will, Trust & Estate Disputes section