The New York Times called the newly unveiled document “strikingly opaque.”
Hopes that Harper Lee’s will would answer lingering questions left after the enigmatic author’s 2016 death were dashed after the document was unsealed in an Alabama court Tuesday.
Like why, for example, did Lee decide to publish Go Set a Watchman 55 years after To Kill a Mockingbird? Was she of sound mind, or did her lawyer coerce her? And with no children to speak of, who would inherit her literary papers and estate, estimated to be worth tens of millions of dollars?
Lee’s will, signed eight days before she died in her sleep at the age of 89, was unsealed after the New York Times filed a lawsuit alleging that wills filed in a probate court in Alabama are typically public records. Unfortunately, the newly unveiled will, which The Times described as “strikingly opaque,” only presented more questions.
Now public, Lee’s will directs that the majority of her assets, including her literary properties, be transferred into a trust called Mockingbird Trust, which she formed in 2011. Court papers identified Lee's heirs and closest living relatives as a niece and three nephews, who will receive an undisclosed portion of her estate through the trust.
The will also named Tonja B. Carter, Lee's longtime lawyer, as the executor of Lee's estate.
“The document’s lack of transparency will likely fuel skepticism among those who feel that Ms. Carter had amassed too much power over Ms. Lee’s career and legacy,” The Times writes. “The will gives Ms. Carter substantial control over Ms. Lee’s estate and her literary properties, which are assigned to the Mockingbird Trust, an entity that was formed in 2011. Ms. Carter served as one of its two trustees at the time.”
Not everyone feels the same. Sidney C. Summey, an estate and trusts lawyer in Birmingham, told The Times that Lee’s is “not an uncommon will,” adding that documents of this kind are “done quite often by people of means, people with notoriety and people who just want to be private.”
Lee, a notoriously private and humble figure, lived nearly all her life in her beloved hometown of Monroeville. Her sizeable estate was built largely on the staggering success of To Kill a Mockingbird, which has sold more than 40 million copies worldwide since its publication in 1960.