It used to be that artists, musicians and writers were often taken advantage of by giant corporations The creators of artistic work would assign their copyright to the work to the corporation for far less then fair market value. Recognizing this as a serious issue, Congress made changes to the copyright laws in 1976 that allow the creators of a copyrighted works that have been assigned to someone else the option of reclaiming those rights. This is important for people who administer the estates of those who might have copyrights that were assigned.
A copyright can be a valuable asset for an estate. It is an Executor’s duty to claim all of the assets for an estate. Thus, the Executor has a duty to investigate whether a copyright can and should be reclaimed. That can be very difficult. Reclaiming the copyright must be done within a very specific time frame that depends on whether a right of publication was assigned with the copyright. This is not something that most Executors should do alone. It requires some level of expertise.
If you are an Executor and you think that copyrights have been assigned, make sure to seek the advice of an attorney about what you need to do and when.