Growing up, one of my favorite books was To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Set in rural Alabama during the Great Depression, the book tells the story of Atticus Finch, a virtuous country lawyer who battles racial injustice on behalf of his African-American client.

In the more than fifty years since publication, many in the legal community have cited the character of Atticus Finch as a model of integrity for the legal profession. Indeed, many lawyers (including myself) number the book among their reasons for attending law school. However, with the recent publication of Harper Lee’s controversial second book, many of us have been forced to reexamine this fictional character. 

Like many who have read and enjoyed To Kill a Mockingbird, I had often wondered why Harper Lee never published a second novel. After her first book proved an enormous success, Lee became intensely private, moving from Manhattan to a small town in Alabama. As the years passed, friends, relatives, and commentators described Lee as “publicity-shy” and “monastically private.” Some even claimed that Lee had vowed never to publish again.

Time eventually took its toll on Lee’s health with reports of a stroke, failing eyesight, and increasing deafness. One op-ed piece even claimed that a now elderly Lee would sign any document placed in front of her by someone she trusts. Considering this background, many in the literary community expressed surprise at the publication of Lee’s second offering, Go Set a Watchmen, in July of 2014. This new book contains many of the same characters as Lee’s earlier work. In the new book, Lee paints a picture of a much less virtuous Atticus Finch, devolved from heroic lawyer into staunch segregationist. As you can probably imagine, many fans expressed displeasure with the change.

With Lee’s advanced age and reportedly diminished capabilities, some have questioned whether Lee actually consented to the publication of the second book. In reality, few know the details surrounding the decision or whether Lee suffered from some form of manipulation. Regardless, these allegations give us pause. As we age, we begin thinking about who will make decisions for us if the effects of illness or an accident diminish our senses. 

By executing an estate plan and choosing the right trusted advisor, you can ensure that your wishes are followed even in the event of disability or incapacity. For years, people have adopted powers of attorney and revocable trusts to protect themselves in the event of incapacity. These documents can be drafted to give you maximum control over your financial affairs during life and can authorize someone to assist you and your family during incapacity and ultimately death.

Heartland Trust Company is often asked to serve as trustee or attorney-in-fact under a power of attorney. We act as a neutral third party making sure that decisions are made solely with you in mind. Exercising substituted judgment is never easy; therefore, we learn about your decision-making process and core values while you are alive and competent. You may not be a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, but it still makes sense to put your affairs in order. To learn more, ask to speak with an associate of the Heartland Trust Company.

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