To Kill a Legacy

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Laura Biskupic Marketing Director
Laura Biskupic
Marketing Director

Harper Lee’s most poignant story may be one she never penned.

The dramatic release of her second novel, Go Set a Watchman, reads like creative non-fiction and begs a few possibly eternal questions:

Did Lee really agree to publish it?

Is the book, written before her Pulitzer Prize winning To Kill a Mockingbird, a sequel or a first draft?

Is Lee’s silence by choice or circumstance?

The controversy brings to mind the most famous of To Kill a Mockingbird’s oft cited quotes,

“Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

It’s a sin to kill a Mockingbird’s legacy as well, and therein lies the debate.

Until her death at age 103 last November, Alice Lee, once Alabama’s oldest practicing attorney, worked tirelessly to protect her younger sister, Nelle Harper Lee, who maintained a half-century vow to avoid the public (and especially the media’s) eye. So, it is interesting that, just three months after Alice’s death, the attorney who succeeded her discovered an unpublished Harper Lee manuscript in a safe deposit box.

That lawyer, Tonja Carter, wrote an op-ed piece describing her recollection of the events leading up to Tuesdays’ release of Go Set a Watchman that only raised more questions.

Did Harper Lee, a stroke victim described as both deaf and blind, say, as Carter asserted in 2011 in regards to a different book, a biography of the Lee sisters “Rest assured, as long as I am alive any book purporting to be with my cooperation is a falsehood”?

Or, is this a more accurate description of Harper Lee’s state of mind, written by Alice, also in 2011: “Poor Nelle Harper can’t see and can’t hear and will sign anything put before her by anyone in whom she has confidence.”

Whether the publication of Go Set a Watchman is a literary triumph or artistic tragedy, it does serve as a lesson for us all, especially those of us who work in an industry focused on building and protecting legacies.

Don’t take your legacy for granted. Take time now to detail your wishes. Write a letter to family members and store a copy in a safe place. Update that letter annually, and chose your representative carefully.

Set up a Power of Attorney, which will be critical if you become incapacitated. Make sure you understand the succession plans of the attorneys, accountants, and advisors with whom you work.

Call us if you have any questions about these important tasks.

You have some control over the legacy you leave. Take steps to ensure it today.