March 1, 2018

Harper Lee’s will is finally unsealed, and it raises more questions than anwers


Harper Lee

Listen, if something looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck… well, it’s probably a duck.

And by “duck” I mean “predatory lawyer.”

On Tuesday, Serge F. Kovaleski and Alexandra Alter reported for the New York Times that author Harper Lee’s will has been unsealed, following a lawsuit filed by the Times.

The fact that the will was sealed in the first place is fishy: Wills filed in probate court in Alabama, where Lee lived, are typically public records, but Lee’s will was sealed after her longtime lawyer, Tonja B. Carter, cited Lee’s desire for privacy in probate court. (We wrote about that fishiness here.)

Yes, this is the same Tonja B. Carter whose apparent influence over the author raised more than a few eyebrows when Go Set a Watchman, Lee’s early “newly discovered novel,” was published in 2015. You remember that fiasco, but here are some refreshers.

So, what does this newly-unsealed will reveal? Neither surprises nor answers it seems. Kovaleski and Alter report that the document names Carter “as the executor, or personal representative, of the estate, and it provided her with wide-ranging powers to shepherd Ms. Lee’s literary legacy and the rest of her assets.” Of course.

More mysteriously, the will “directed that the bulk of [Lee’s] assets, including her literary properties, be transferred to a trust she formed in 2011.” Because trust documents are private, only Lee’s closest relatives and, of course, Tonja B. Carter will know who are the beneficiaries of the author’s estate, which the Times estimates to be worth tens of millions of dollars.

The plot thickens, as they say.



Taylor Sperry is a former Melville House editor.