Albee asked two friends to destroy any incomplete manuscripts he left behind, says The New York Times in “Edward Albee’s Final Wish: Destroy My Unfinished Work.” These instructions were included in Albee’s will, filed on Long Island, where he lived and died. It’s unusual but not unprecedented and is called “dead hand control.”
The effect of Albee’s will is currently a mystery. Albee’s executors are an accountant and a designer, both longtime friends of the playwright. The two wouldn’t say if any papers had already been destroyed, although the executors have been carrying out other aspects of Albee’s will.
Albee’s estate asked that Sotheby’s auction off more than 100 artworks he collected. The proceeds—estimated at more than $9 million—will benefit his namesake foundation, which maintains a residence for artists in Montauk, N.Y. It’s the primary beneficiary of his estate, since the playwright never married and had no children or close relatives.
Albee’s executors say they plan to honor Albee’s instructions, even though it’s controversial. Drafts of Albee’s final known project, “Laying an Egg,” are about a middle-aged woman struggling to become pregnant with one plot element about her father’s will.
Albee, best known for “Virginia Woolf,” died in September at the age of 88. His will, which he signed in 2012, was filed in the county court. The will states, “If at the time of my death I shall leave any incomplete manuscripts, I hereby direct my executors to destroy such incomplete manuscripts.”
Until the manuscripts are destroyed, the will instructs that the executors should “treat the materials herein directed to be destroyed as strictly confidential and to ensure that such materials are not copied, made available for scholarly or critical review or made public in any way.”
Some playwrights say these drafts aren’t public property and belong to the author. The author has the right to decide their fate. However, attorneys who specialize in estate law and intellectual property say the issue is less clear. There’s a long history of heirs substituting their own judgments for those of deceased artists, and little case law about whether it’s okay.
One law professor remarked, “It’s problematic to force Albee to share these plays, when he didn’t think they were good enough.”
Reference: New York Times (July 4, 2017) “Edward Albee’s Final Wish: Destroy My Unfinished Work”