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Harper Lee's will is now public information

A New York Times legal action has forced open the details of Harper Lee's will.

The notoriously reclusive author of To Kill A Mockingbird, which has inspired generations of lawyers to emulate the character and bravery of character Atticus Finch, died in 2016 after a lengthy illness and a protracted stay in a nursing home.

As a nod to her infamous desire for privacy, the court had sealed the contents of the author's will. However, the newspaper took legal action to force the details into the public, saying that the writer's privacy concerns weren't legally sufficient to seal off the will. The estate initially opposed the action, then dropped the fight.

Wills are normally public information. Given Lee's tremendous cultural impact on literature, movies and the legal profession itself, there are probably many people who want to access as much biographical information as they can. Wills often provide important information about a person's social relationships, life events and assets.

An Atlanta university has already acquired a significant store of personal items and correspondence belonging to the author. They include five years' worth of letters to the previously-unknown couple who helped the iconic writer, who suffered from numerous physical ailments in her last years, piece together the 2015 publication of her second book.

The book is widely considered to be an earlier work of Lee's that was originally written before her most famous piece. It was met with considerable controversy by fans because of the redrawing of Atticus Finch in a less favorable way.

However, much of what the author's estate included is still shrouded in mystery. Just days before the writer died, many of her assets were put into a trust.

Trusts are often used for several reasons in estate planning. First, they can help a will avoid the entanglements and taxation of probate. Second, they are generally not subject to public scrutiny. A trust likely appealed both to the author and her heirs.

Others who wish to keep their affairs away from prying eyes may wish to consider investigating trusts as part of their estate plan.

Source: New Jersey Herald, "Author Harper Lee's will made public, but not estate details," Feb. 28, 2018

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