I am asking this question on behalf of someone who does not want to create a stackexchange account.

Suppose one author on a multi-author textbook that is used regularly in college courses has passed away (on the order of many months ago) but author royalty checks are still at the same amount as before, so the publisher apparently does not yet know that one of the authors is no longer alive.

Here is the main question: what is a proper way for a still surviving co-author to point out to the publisher that one of the co-authors has died without making it come off like a living co-author is just looking to increase the percentage cut of the royalties? (The living co-author suspects the royalty structure should change, but doesn't want to be so crass as to emphasize this point in the message.) You may assume there is nothing in the contract saying that in the event of a death, royalties should be sent to the one of the deceased co-author's relatives. Does the publisher usually just pay the living authors as much as before or draw up a new contract to pay out the same amount of royalties in a new way?

I suppose that if the author of a single-author textbook dies and no provision was made for royalties to continue to be sent to a next of kin, then the publisher quietly cancels the royalty contract with the original author and either (1) keeps all income for itself or (2) makes a contract with a new author to create a new edition at some point. For those in mathematics, like me, an example of the first case is probably what happened with Springer-Verlag after Serge Lang passed away while an example of the second case is Cengage after James Stewart (author of the famous calculus books) died.

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    I believe that the common contracts with publishers have royalty payments going to an authors' heirs. There's no reason that the split among authors would change. Commented Sep 1, 2021 at 23:13
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    @BrianBorchers, that is an answer. Royalties accrue to the estate. (laws vary, of course)
    – Buffy
    Commented Sep 1, 2021 at 23:25
  • This question is about law and not academia. See law.stackexchange.com/questions/67407/…. Commented Sep 2, 2021 at 0:25
  • You've kind of got it backwards. The only way that the payment situation would change with the author's death is if the contract explicitly stated that it should. The default, as Wolfgang says, is that the deceased author's share goes to his estate, and eventually to his heirs. That's how practically every contract works, not just publishing. If the other co-authors were expecting that share to be redistributed to them, they are mistaken (unless of course the deceased co-author left it to them in his will). Commented Sep 2, 2021 at 17:57

1 Answer 1


This is strictly speaking a legal question, but in the jurisdictions I am familiar with, royalties that are due to someone are inherited by that person's heirs upon death unless stated otherwise in a will.

As a consequence, my suspicion is that you can contact the publisher but all that will happen is that they will send the check to someone else, rather than to the deceased's co-authors.

  • Probably the author's executors need to be the ones to contact the publisher. In the meantime they can keep sending the checks payable to the deceased author, and the executor should deposit those checks into the estate's account, where they will be eventually distributed to the heirs. Once the estate settles, the publisher can be told to start making the checks payable to the heirs instead. But I don't think the co-authors have any role in any of this. Commented Sep 2, 2021 at 17:54

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