“Don’t you study about other folks’s business till you take care of your own.” — Finch family cook Calpurnia speaking to Jean Louise Finch in the Harper Lee novel “Go Set a Watchman.”
Lawyers from The New York Times managed this week to unseal the will of novelist Harper Lee, who died two years ago. What they and the rest of us discovered served only to raise more questions about the reclusive author of To Kill A Mockingbird and her estate.
Lee signed the will on Feb. 11, 2016, a little more than a week before she died in her Alabama hometown of Monroeville. The will called for most of her fortune to be placed in a trust, a legal instrument that is not subject to public inspections. What happened to those assets — including any writing she may have done for future publication — is shielded from public view.
Tonja B. Carter, Lee’s attorney, appears to have the biggest say on what becomes of Lee’s assets. In 2016, Carter convinced a Monroe County judge to seal Lee’s will, arguing that making it public could result in “harassment” of beneficiaries.
“It is not an uncommon will, and it is typically what we term a pour-over will where anything in the estate goes over to the trust and they don’t have to disclose the terms of the trust,” Sidney C. Summey, a Birmingham lawyer, told The New York Times.
“It is done quite often by people of means, people with notoriety and people who just want to be private,” he said.
That — meaning privacy — was certainly the case for Lee during her lifetime, especially after the 1960 publication of Mockingbird. The book is treasured by fans and continues to sell hundreds of thousands of copies each year.
Lee continued to make Monroeville her home, though she famously shunned interviews with reporters and the gawking stares of fans who made the trek to south Alabama just to get a glimpse of their literary hero. She wanted to go about her life without the glare of the spotlight.
This story has hit a roadblock. There’s no telling what became of Lee’s assets. We are certain that all this attention on her would almost surely irritate the author.