In September 2021, it was ruled that the Duke of Edinburgh’s Will that was executed on 5th June 2013 is to remain secret for at least 90 years.
It has been a standard procedure for over a century that after the death of a senior member of the Royal Family, the Courts are asked to seal their Wills. This means that it will not be open to public inspection.
Furthermore, the value of the estate declared for a Grant of Probate would also be excluded and not open to the public. This was ruled by the High Court to protect the “dignity and standing” of the Queen and the Royal Family.
Unlike Wills that are granted probate, they do become public. By law, when a Grant of Probate is made with respect to a deceased’s estate, any Wills or other documents that are relevant to the Grant must be open to inspection.
Interestingly, the President also revealed that he is the custodian of a safe containing the wills of 30 deceased senior Royals. It’s understood the first family member whose will was sealed by the Court in 1910 was Prince Francis of Teck, the younger brother of Queen Mary.
However, one will that was not sealed was that of Diana, Princess of Wales. Unlike other members of the Royal Family, her Will was published after her death in 1997. She gave quite a few legacies to her godchildren, but the remainder of her estate was divided between her sons when they reached the age of 25.
The President of the family division Court, who is also head of the Probate Registries ruled that after 90 years after the Grant of Probate, an “initial and private process will be undertaken to consider whether at that stage the will may be unsealed and made public”. The physical process of unsealing must be conducted by a professional archivist to ensure that the document and its seals are properly preserved.
The last time a request was made to unseal a Royal’s Will was in 2007. Robert Brown requested to make the Will of the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret available, claiming he was the illegitimate child of Princess Margaret. This was not allowed, and was a decision upheld by the Court of Appeal as an “imaginary and baseless claim”.
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