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Probate judge seals Harper Lee's will

Many Polk County residents are familiar with the name Harper Lee. The author gained her fame from her 1960 Pulitzer Prize winning novel, "To Kill A Mockingbird." Despite the book's enormous commercial success over the years, Lee only published one other novel, which was not released to the public until 2015. Throughout her life, Lee stayed out of the limelight, preferring to keep her privacy. She passed away at the age of 89 last month.

Following her death, Lee's attorney asked the probate court to keep her will out of the public eye. A person's will is ordinarily a public record once the person passes away and the will is submitted to the probate court. However, in this case the state judge made an exception due to Lee's fame and the possibility of exploitation, harassment or other problems for her heirs if the will were to become public.

Lee was a notoriously private person during her life, so it is no surprise that her attorney sought to keep her probate affairs private. This desire to maintain privacy, even after death, is not reserved only for famous people like Lee. Many people in the Lakeland and Winter Haven areas may have similar wishes to keep their estate distribution out of public scrutiny.

Preparing a will essential to ensuring one's wishes are followed regarding the distribution of their assets after death. But a will's provisions cannot necessarily keep the estate out of the public domain. A Florida resident concerned about privacy may wish to consider a living trust as an alternative to a will.

People in Florida who need help planning their estate can contact an experienced probate and estate administration attorney. Although Harper Lee was able to maintain the privacy of her estate after her death, one cannot always count on the benefit of a probate court's discretion.

Source: CBS 47, "Alabama judge seals Harper Lee will," Kim Chandler, March 7, 2016

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