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The Girl Who Lost the Rights – Lessons from Stieg Larsson’s Estate

The Millennium series of crime thrillers by the Swedish author Stieg Larsson has sold millions of copies around the world and resulted in a movie which has been a huge box-office success.

Stieg Larsson sadly did not live to see the phenomenal success of his writing, as the novels were all published posthumously after his sudden death from a heart attack in 2004 at the age of 50. Mr Larsson’s estate has benefited from the entire royalty stream earned since the publication of ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ in 2005.

Mr Larsson had not drawn up a valid will before his sudden death and, under Swedish law, his estate was divided between his nearest surviving relatives, who were his father and his brother. His partner of over 30 years, Eva Gabrielsson, whom Mr Larsson had never married, received nothing as of right from the estate and a long-running dispute has ensued between Ms Gabrielsson and Mr Larsson’s family, particularly over control of the valuable literary rights and the manner in which these are exploited.

If Mr Larsson had been born in England and died intestate, the situation on his death would have been similar, with his father receiving the whole of his estate, including the literary rights, under the intestacy rules.

Mr Larsson’s wishes will forever remain a matter of conjecture and controversy. What is clear is that if he had made a valid will, no one would have been in doubt as to his wishes. Under English law, an author can appoint a literary executor, which can be a separate appointment from that of the general executors of an estate. A literary executor has the power to exploit works in the way that he or she feels best, and would receive all royalties for distribution in accordance with the provisions of the will.

It is sensible for everyone to make a will, but it is particularly important if your estate contains any unusual property such as creative works of art, business property and property in foreign jurisdictions. If an appropriate will is drawn up, the sort of controversy and long-running dispute that has characterised Mr Larsson’s estate can be avoided.o0m

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