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Can I keep my Will private after I die?

Can I keep my Will private after I die like Prince Philip?

The High Court has decided that Prince Philip’s Will is to remain secret for the next 90 years to protect ‘the dignity and standing’ of the Queen.

In theory, ‘sealing’ a Will, is an option open to all of us, royal or not. Technically, our personal representative could apply for all or part of our Will to be closed to any inspection after our death.

However, in practice, it just doesn’t happen as the circumstances which might justify the sealing of a Will are considered few and far between. In fact, the judge presiding over Prince Philip’s case made it clear that the recent judgement is ‘firmly confined to the Wills of senior members of the Royal Family’.

When and why does a Will become public?

Your Will, while you are alive, is private to you and any legal professional who helped you make it.

When you die, the situation changes. Once the order of probate is granted – the legal right to deal with your property, money and possessions – your Will automatically becomes a public document.

Making it public is a safeguard to make sure that the wishes set out in your Will are adhered to, to bring it to the attention of any potential beneficiaries and to prevent fraud against your estate.

Once a Will is published, anyone can obtain a copy, whether they were related to you or not. The fee currently stands at just £1.50.

Are there ways I can keep some details of my Will private after I die?

Yes, and this is where the advice of a specialist solicitor can really help.

They include:

  • Including a discretionary trust in your Will with an accompanying private letter or statement of wishes addressed to the trustees. In short, this means that although your Will becomes public after probate is granted, the details of how your estate is to be divided as set out in the private letter do not.
  • Inserting a ‘secret trust’ into your Will. The artist Lucian Freud used this method. Although his Will was published in the normal way, he gave his £42 million residuary estate to his two solicitors who held the money on the terms of a secret trust agreed with Mr Freud before his death. In this way, the names of those who benefitted from Mr Freud’s residuary estate were never made public

What’s the future for secret Wills?

The legal method of ‘sealing a Will’ was first devised after Prince Francis of Teck, the brother of Queen Mary, died in 1910. This is said to be because he left emeralds prized by Queen Mary to his mistress, the Countess of Kilmorey.

Thirty members of the Windsor family have since made legal applications to have their Wills hidden from the public. As well as Prince Philip, this includes the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret.

Sir Andrew McFarlane, the most senior judge in the family courts, has now declared that after 90 years, each royal Will can be opened and examined by the monarch’s private solicitor, the keeper of the Royal Archives, the Attorney General and any representatives of the deceased person still alive.

They will together then decide whether the Will can be made public, although Sir Andrew admitted that some royal Wills may never be published, even in part.

Get in touch

If you would like to make or update a Will or talk about the feasibility of making sure certain provisions remain private, our specialist lawyers can help and advise.

Wards Solicitors is ranked as a leading firm in the South West in the 2022 edition of Legal 500 with our Wills, Probate and Mental Capacity team highly recommended.

Please contact any member of Wards Solicitors’ Wills, Probate and Mental Capacity Team.

 

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