On February 29, 2016 Tonja Carter, the estate lawyer and trustee for Harper Lee who replaced Alice Lee after her death in 2014, asked, through the legal firm representing her, an Alabama court to seal Harper Lee’s will from the public, claiming that Harper Lee wanted the same privacy in death that she made sure, for as long as she was able, in life.
On March 4, 2016 Monroe County, Alabama Probate Judge Greg Norris granted the request.
Given the suspicious circumstances around the publication of Go Set A Watchman, this latest legal action raises, at least for me, a whole new set of red flags.
Harper Lee never married and has no living relatives except for nieces and nephews.
The exact worth of her estate is unknown, but To Kill A Mockingbird sales are estimated to be around $3 million a year. The gross sales figures for Go Set A Watchman in 2015 were over $10 million.
No matter the size of the slice of sales for Go Set A Watchman that goes to Harper Lee’s estate, the money involved is substantial.
The same issues surrounding Harper Lee’s cognitive ability to consent to the publication of Go Set A Watchman (Lee suffered a stroke in 2007 and never recovered cognitively as dementia began as a result of the damage done by the stroke to her brain and then progressed from that time forward) surround this will and the legal actions between February 29, 2016 and March 4, 2016.
Elder abuse is at the top of the list. No action was taken on the book publication until after Alice Lee’s (she was her sister’s attorney) death, which is suspicious, as is the inconsistent stories about the book came to be that both Tonja Carter and Random House floated to the media before its release in July of 2015.
Now a legal firm representing Tonja Carter has requested and been granted that Harper Lee’s will remain private.
Questions abound. When was the will dated? Who did the will? Are there substantive changes from previous wills? Was Harper Lee mentally competent to agree – and sign with full understanding – the contents of the will?
Why would does Harper Lee’s estate attorney now have a legal firm representing her and making legal motions for her on behalf of Harper Lee’s estate?
Was the probate judge in Alabama promised a cut from the estate to rule in favor of Tonja Carter and to hide any fraud and elder abuse she may have committed against Harper Lee?
Harper Lee’s will being sealed just adds more suspicion that suggests she was taken advantage of by several people who were very much interested in the money they would make than they were in her since she was not neurologically competent to even know what was happening.
Shame on them all, including this probate judge.
Innocent people don’t need legal firms to represent them when they are the trustee of an estate. Innocent people don’t seal wills on a privacy claim that “sounds about right,” but which cannot be proven (there was no direct documentation or instructions left by Harper Lee indicating that she wanted her will to remain private).
Now Tonja Carter, as trustee of Harper Lee’s estate, can do whatever she wants with it. She doesn’t have to share any of it with Harper Lee’s living relatives.
If my suspicions about Carter are true, since she has proven time and again a lack of integrity with regard to Harper Lee, this version of the will doesn’t even have any of Lee’s relatives in it, but instead has a trust account out of which Carter is paid very, very well to manage the estate.
This sadly, is another aspect of the long-term effects of dementia, even after our loved ones are gone. And it’s not as uncommon as we might like to think
While we’re cognitively able, we need to designate someone we trust (Harper got Tonja Carter after Alice’s death, because Tonja Carter just took over – there was no consent on Harper’s part) as our medical, legal, and financial power of attorney and make our wishes known and get the legal documentation in place to minimize the chances that we, although most of us don’t have an estate the size of Harper Lee’s, will suffer the same fate that it appears Harper Lee suffered.
Dementia is hard enough without this kind of heartbreak. Growing old and becoming dependent on others is a tough road on its own without having to worry that someone will swoop in and take the little or much that we have left for themselves, leaving us and the people we intend to leave what’s left with nothing.
Do it today. None of us is promised tomorrow.