Suppose I am working on a book that is a broad expansion of a survey article I wrote with a collaborator, Dr. Y, who passed away recently. I sent Y extremely early drafts of some chapters and invited Y to be a coauthor. Y gave a lot suggestions in the structure, content, and style of the book, yet Y remained vague about coauthorship (probably because he had doubts if he will live long enough). Y never said yes or no.

Y never participated in the actual writing. But Y's suggestions became the high level blueprint that guided the development of the book.

This draft is only about 60% done, but I'm wondering: in this case, should Y be a coauthor?


There may be laws that govern this, though laws vary from place to place. Normally he would have to give permission and that "right" may legally have passed to his heirs. You would do well to contact someone responsible for his estate and take up the question with them.

But since he never gave permission, you don't have permission, yet, to include him. You have an obligation to acknowledge his contribution and probably cite some of the specifics as well, even though they haven't been published.

Dedicating the book to his memory would be a nice touch also.

  • 1
    Even for adding as an acknowledgement, I think OP should speak with the legal heirs of the late person (although this may not have anything to do with law; but as a sense of respect).
    – Coder
    Dec 16 '20 at 17:21

In addition to @Buffy's good answer, I would note that an important part of this decision will be based on the degree to which material from the prior survey article is included, since the person is already established as a co-author of the prior article.

  • If significant portions of the prior article are effectively incorporated in this work, then the default position is for all prior authors to be co-authors, since they are co-authors of a subset of the work. In this case, the person should be a co-author.
  • If the new work does not include significant portions of the prior work, then the default position is for authorship to be determined independently. In this case, it is your judgement call whether their contributions rise to the level of authorship or should be an acknowledgement.

In both cases, the person can no longer consent so, as @Buffy points out, consent will pass to their heirs. Usually, though, this won't be a hard decision for the heirs, as a good scientific publication is a lasting mark on the world that honors the memory of the deceased. I have experience with this myself (though I wasn't the one who negotiated with the heirs), and family of the deceased not only happily supported the publication, but went on to establish a standing scholarship in the area in the person's name.