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Tuesday, May 14, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Harper Lee’s Will Sealed in Ala. Probate Court

(CN) - A county judge in Alabama on Friday sealed the will of "To Kill a Mockingbird" author Harper Lee from public scrutiny, ensuring that her well-known desire for privacy will be observed even with her passing.

Lee died last month at age 89 in Monroeville, Ala., the community of 6,300 in which she'd also spent her childhood.

In her later years, she and her sister Alice, were often seen about town, but Lee timed her visits to a local cafe and downtown stores for off-peak hours when she could almost guarantee she and Alice would be left alone.

After Alice died in 2014 she moved into Meadows, a local assisted living facility, and relied increasingly on her lawyer, Tonja Carter, who she named the trustee of her estate.

Lee's relationship with Carter became controversial later year after the publication of "Go Set a Watchman," a book the author wrote and then stuck in a drawer, before going on to write "To Kill a Mockingbird."

Carter said she found the manuscript in a safe deposit box and with the author's permission, had it published last year. Many, however, claimed Carter had manipulated her elderly client into publishing book.

"Mockingbird," published in 1960, became one of the best-selling books of all time, and the film version, released in 1962 and starring Gregory Peck as the book's protagonist, Atticus Finch, is an enduring classic.

"I never expected any sort of success with 'Mockingbird,'" Lee later told a radio interviewer. "I sort of hoped someone would like it well enough to give me encouragement."

When she made that comment she was then engaged in an entirely different kind of enterprise, helping her childhood friend Truman Capote research the murder of a well-to-do Kansas farm family for what eventually became his masterwork, "In Cold Blood."

On Monday, Scott Adams, with the Birmingham, Ala. law firm Bradley Arant Boult Cummings, filed a motion on behalf of Carter, asking that Lee's will be sealed and thereby kept from prying eyes.

Monroe County Probate Judge Greg Norris signed the order Monday afternoon, but did not announce the decision until Friday.

"The court finds clear and convincing evidence that information contained in the will and associated court filings pertains to wholly private family matters; poses a serious threat of harassment, exploitation, physical intrusion, or other particularized harm to persons identified in those documents or otherwise entitled to notice of this proceeding; and posts potential for harm to third persons not entitled to notice of this proceeding," Norris wrote.

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