The Court ruled that Prince Phillip’s Will should be “sealed up” and “no copy of the will should be made for the record or kept on the Court file”. Not only will the Will remain private, but the Court also ruled that the estate’s value should be excluded from the Grant of Probate.
Why has this happened?
Since the early 20th century, there has been a convention that the Will of a deceased senior member of the Royal family should be “sealed up” and kept private to protect the Royal’s dignity. The information contained within the Will is likely to be highly sensitive, and publication of this could result in harassment and intrusion into the private lives of beneficiaries.
Can my Will be kept private after my death?
Whilst it may be traditional for the Courts to seal Royal family Wills from public viewing, this is not the case for your regular family.
Once a Grant of Probate has been extracted, the deceased’s Will becomes a public document, meaning that anyone can access it for a small fee. This is nearly always the case and certainly for the general public. There are some exceptional circumstances where the disclosure of a Will is contrary to the public interest or national security. In those scenarios, it would be possible to apply to the Court for an Order that the Will remain private and sealed. However, for most regular people, seeking an Order from the Court for your Will to stay private is unlikely to be an option.
There may be valid reasons as to why people want to keep the terms of their Will private. It may cause you some concern to know that it will become a public document. Recent surveys show that there has been a rise in disputes after death, and the Coronavirus pandemic may well have added to that. Or there may be things that you don’t want to become common knowledge. There may be reasons why you have excluded certain people or personal statements to your loved ones. Well, do not despair! There is a way around this by including a letter of wishes alongside your Will. This is not legally binding, but it remains private. Meaning you can provide specific information within it without worrying about it being placed in the public domain after you are gone.
Whilst some may put off making a Will due to it being a public document after death, the consequences of not making a Will can be far worse. If you do not make a Will before you die, you will be deemed to die intestate, which means that your estate will pass according to the Intestacy Rules set out in law. These rules can be arbitrary; they are fixed and are unlikely to meet your wishes in most cases. Crucially, cohabitees are not provided for under the Intestacy Rules. Whilst certain people may be able to claim under the Inheritance Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 if financial provision has not been made for them due to the Intestacy Rules; this would involve potentially costly and time-consuming litigation. So, you must have an up to date Will setting out how you would like your assets to be distributed upon your death.
If you would like to speak to a member of the team to discuss updating or amending your Will, don’t hesitate to get in touch with our dedicated Wills, Trusts and Probate team by calling 01379 652141 or by emailing email@example.com
If you feel you have been unfairly left out of a loved ones Will and would like to discuss your options, please contact our Contested Probate Solicitors by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 01503 598000.
*The information provided in this article is designed to provide helpful information on the subject, not to provide specific legal advice