I was compelled to think of my own art. What would happen to it after I was no more? I would like to imagine that it would be lovingly and prominently displayed in the homes of my loved ones. That my family and friends would look at my art and remember me fondly. That the art would bring them as much joy as it did me. At the very least, that my art wouldn't die with me. That it wouldn't be discarded so thoughtlessly and callously like the art of my neighbor Walt, heaped in a trash can like so much foul garbage... But, in life, you can presume nothing.
And this experience prompted me to remember quite the opposite phenomenon: when an artist dies, family members and friends sometimes quabble over who will inherit what art. Sometimes these disputes turn ugly with interested parties "acquiring" art without permission from an estate. My own personal experience involved a family member having a key to the decedent's home (that no one knew he had) and under cloak of night, entering the home and removing all of the art. This family member was not the estate executor and had not legally inherited the art. The decedent had a legal will, but no mention of his art and disposition thereof was addressed. And the worst of it, this family member did not even like the art. Had no interest in it or a passion for it. It was an act designed to inflame long held familial rivalries. An act intended to settle a score. In the end, with all the intense grief accompanying this family member's death, no legal action was instituted. The money and emotional capital was not there. The theft remained unprosecuted. And over time, this theft caused much sadness and anguish to those who loved the artist and would have loved to have inherited his art. Memories of certain pieces was all that remained for them.
Artists, I would argue, are the last folks on this mortal coil to contemplate their own deaths. I maintain that the very act of creating art is a means to stave off contemplation of ones own mortality. Or maybe it is as Andy Warhol once said: "The idea is not to live forever. It is to create something that will."* But can we truly be assured that our art will outlive us after all? Well, maybe. With a little estate planning, leaving nothing to chance, we will have a better shot at it.
First, make a will. Therein, state precisely what art is to be inherited by what person. To avert any confusion, I suggest that you catalogue all art to be inherited; that is, photograph the art in question and include its title, dimensions and medium. Including its valuation will also be useful to your heirs.
Second, if you are so inclined, gift your art to your loved ones when you are alive. This adds the extra benefit of witnessing the recipients' happiness when they receive such a gift. I have done this---especially, when someone states that they absolutely love such and such a piece of mine. I know in my heart, that my art is going to a home where it will be loved as much as I have loved it.
In the end, death is unavoidable---even for artists. But with a little planning and kindness, you art doesn't have to die with you.
*Source of Andy Warhol quote: quoteaddicts.com