California fans of the work of the late author Harper Lee may be aware that in keeping with the private life she led, her will was also made private. However, on Feb. 27, following a lawsuit from The New York Times, the will was unsealed.
Lee had directed her literary properties and most of her assets to a trust called The Mockingbird Trust. She formed this in 2011, and trusts are private. Lee’s longtime lawyer was named as the executor of the estate. Court documents indicated that Lee also left an undisclosed amount to her nephews and niece, her closest relatives. The will was signed by Lee eight days before her death.
Although wills are generally public documents, her attorney had sought to have it sealed because of Lee’s preference for privacy. She also said that individuals named in the will might face harassment. The estate eventually withdrew its efforts to keep the will from being made public. News sources reported that it did not contain much specific information. According to one attorney, this is not unusual for public individuals. He described it as a pour-over will, which is created to place most assets in a private trust.
Even when people know they have been named executor, they may be unprepared for the duties that accompany it. This lack of preparation might be confounded for people who only learn on the death of a loved one that they are the executor. However, an attorney may be able to help guide a person through this process. An attorney may also be able to assist if there are any challenges to the estate plan or other conflicts with beneficiaries.
Source: AL, “Harper Lee’s will is unsealed but questions about the legend of American literature remain“, Anna Beahm, Feb. 28, 2018