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Digital Subscriptions > Writing Magazine > April 2016 > The business of writing: Life after death

The business of writing: Life after death

Our Last Will and Testament may not be as interesting as William Shakespeare’s, but Simon Whaley chats to two experts about why every writer needs one.

Four hundred years ago, on 25 March 1616, William Shakespeare wrote his Last Will and Testament. This turned out to be a wise move, because one month later he was dead. Reading through his will (a copy of which can be viewed on the National Archives website,, he made several interesting bequests. He left thirty pounds to his sister Joan, ten pounds to the poor of Stratford, and to his wife, Anne, he left his second-best bed… as any decent writer would.

Although Shakespeare was in the business of writing, one aspect his will didn’t have to deal with was copyright, because the first British statute on copyright didn’t appear until 1710. Yet this is something anyone writing today must consider. It doesn’t matter whether we’re traditionally published, selfpublished, or yet to be published, as soon as we write something it is automatically protected under copyright law. It’s this copyright that allows us to grant publishers the right to print (and produce in other formats) our work in return for royalties. However, copyright doesn’t exist just for our lifetime. It continues for another seventy years after our death, which means our writing continues living, even though we’ve passed on. That’s why all writers should have a will, because our work is an asset that, along with our royalties, we can leave to others.

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