Have you ever handled work for an author posthumously? If so, did they die midword, slumped over a keyboard in some drafty garrett somewhere, or did someone handling their estate find the sweatstained manuscript left behind and think "OMG! Bestseller stuff here!"
(I know, this is an off the wall question; must be because it's overcast and rainy looking in my normally sunny neighborhood) Thanks for thinking about it, or sorry for making ya think about it.... )
No John Kennedy Toole stories for me, sorry. I'm pretty sure I couldn't get a dead author published for a first novel today. Someone else maybe could, but not me.
However, clients do die (the miserable turkeys) and after Miss Snark dabs a tear from her cold flinty eye, she accosts the survivors and makes sure they know Miss Snark is their friend.
Author estates can go on for years. JM Barrie bequeathed the royalties for Peter Pan to a London hospital. You can bet there's an agent taking 10% who is making sure no one thinks Peter Pan is in the public domain.
Where it gets tricky is if the agent dies. That's a very very very different situation, and one of the reasons you should always ask an agent how they structure their business before you sign. I'd also want to know if the agent has any plans for the disposition of the agency's assets if s/he were to die. The thing is..the agent gets the 15% even if s/he's dead, so it's not just a matter of moving on with things and signing up with someone ..err...breathing.
No one ever really talks about this but it's something I'd always ask about were I getting ready to sign with someone.