On June 25th, famed NY Times fashion photographer Bill Cunningham died at the age of 87. Cunningham is best known for his Times columns, On the Street and Evening Hours, which have been running for over 25 years.
Highly regarded by New York's fashion elite, Vogue Editor in Chief Anna Wintour told the Times "we all dress for Bill. You feel he's the only one who notices or cares how you dress."
But his treasured photographs, which documented fashion trends throughout multiple decades could be gone - or perhaps available only to those with significant resources.
And why? Because Bill Cunningham failed to do a Will. With no will or estate planning documents (like a trust), all of Mr. Cunningham's assets will follow the laws of intestate succession. In other words, they will go to the closest living family members, whether or not Bill was actually close to them, and regardless of what he would have wanted.
When no Will or Trust exists, it can be complicated to iron out how one's estate will be distributed - especially if the estate includes original artwork like photographs. Just a week after his passing, the New York Times had already been banned from using his photographs. According to Times sources, the images are tied up in "rights issues." The surviving family of Cunningham includes several nieces and nephews. And when it comes to unplanned estates - more family is seldom merrier. More simply compounds the potential for disagreement.
So what will happen to Bill Cunningham's photography? Who would Bill have wanted to safeguard his life's work?
Unfortunately we may never know what he wanted, and we will have to wait to find out what becomes of his estate.
In the meantime, even without his original photographs, New Yorkers are actively celebrating his life. Today they honored Bill by temporarily naming a street corner after him - the corner of 57th and 5th Avenue.
As for other artists and those with assets (or loved ones) they value, I encourage them to put their life's work in a trust. Don't pay litigation attorneys like myself to work out your estate for you in the courts - tell us Your plan.
For a complimentary consultation, call my Walnut Creek Estate Planning Office at 925-322-1795 for an appointment.