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Heirs in legal battle over 85-year-old song lyrics

Last month, we discussed the importance of including all possible assets in your estate plan -- including online assets such as your Facebook account. Creative and social assets are things you might have a personal interest in controlling, and you might want them managed a certain way to ensure your legacy once you are gone. What applies to Facebook also applies to things you wrote, drew or invented.

One family is involved in a lawsuit over 80 years after a woman wrote a short song for children. The song, then called "Warm Kitty," was written by the woman when she taught nursery children. She submitted the lyrics to a music company, which published them as part of an anthology of such songs.

The woman's heirs claim that she retained the rights to the song. Years later, the song made a public appearance on television as a favorite lullaby of "The Big Bang Theory" character Sheldon Cooper. The song has been sung by characters on the television show several times and has become a fan favorite. Merchandise displaying all or part of the song's lyrics is sold online and at Comic Cons.

The woman's daughters claim that the television show is using the lyrics for profit without having arranged permission and a deal with the woman's estate. According to the lawsuit, the producers did seek and receive permission from the company that published the woman's song in a book. The heirs claim that the publishing company didn't have a right to give that permission.

While this lawsuit is still playing out in court, it serves as a good lesson to anyone dealing with estate law from either side of the issue. If you are planning your estate, make sure to include creative assets in your plans. If you are administering an estate, you might have rights to seek compensation from entities who have used assets belonging to the estate.

Source: Fox 411, "Heirs to New Hampshire poet sue 'Big Bang Theory' producers," Dec. 29, 2015

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