What Will Happen To Lee's Estate?

On Friday, one of the country's most treasured literary figures passed away at the age of 89 ― Harper Lee, the famed author of To Kill A Mockingbird, one of the most celebrated novels in American history. News of her death has spurred memorials and tributes throughout mainstream media and social media alike, but it has also raised a concerned question from some of her ardent admirers. Namely: What will happen now to Harper Lee's estate?

In Lee's case, these questions are swirling for a very specific reason ― the controversial circumstances of the publishing of her second book, Go Set a Watchman, the only novel besides Mockingbird ever released under her name.

When Go Set a Watchman was published last year, some friends and fans of Lee expressed concern that the manuscript could have been approved for publishing without Lee's informed consent ― she was in her late 80s at the time, in severely declining health following a stroke she suffered in 2007, and confined to an assisted living facility. Harper's attorney and agent both denied these claims, as well as some of her friends, and an investigation by the state of Alabama determined there was no wrongdoing.

All the same, the sudden unearthing of the old manuscript, which was advertised as a once-planned installment in a trilogy of Mockingbird books, stood in contrast to Lee's longstanding claims that she'd never release another novel and led to widespread speculation that she might have been coerced or manipulated into approving its release, or wasn't cognitively competent to make such a decision. It also didn't help that the book contained passages that were word-for-word identical to what Lee wrote in her other, far more legendary book ― in truth, it's not an independently conceived sequel to Mockingbird, but merely an early draft of the iconic story.


Given this potentially sad and suspicious final chapter of Lee's life, many of her fans and admirers on social media have expressed concern about what could be coming next. Namely, whether the ensuing dealings with her estate are going to turn up any other manuscripts that could end up being published.

If it sounds counter-intuitive that fans of her work would be worried that more of it would finally be released, that's a testament to their care and sophistication ― even if you might be disappointed that she didn't have a more prolific career, the perceived ugliness of Go Set a Watchman's release really hammered home that diluting an author's legacy, especially when they opposed it for decades and were potentially beyond preventing it, is a sin unto itself.

This much seems clear, however ― if there are truly any other unfinished or unpublished works by Lee floating around out there, they're not in the safety deposit box that contained the Mockingbird and Watchman manuscripts. Months after the release of the latter novel last year, a rare books expert named James Jaffe examined its contents and found no other novels inside.

As for what will happen to Lee's considerable fortune ― according to the BBC, the annual royalties she earned from To Kill a Mockingbird made her a millionaire many times over ― that's not yet entirely clear. Lee never married, nor had any children, and her closest relative throughout her adult life was her older sister Alice, who passed away in 2014 at the age of 103.

For years, it had been Alice who'd helped Lee manage her affairs, which is a huge part of why many people doubt whether she genuinely wanted to see Watchman published ― it wasn't until after Alice died that the manuscript was published. Lee also had a sister named Louise, who died in 2009, leaving behind two children, two grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.