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Can the public see a will made by a member of the Royal Family?

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Wills are admitted to probate and become public documents. However, a Royal will can be treated differently.

The probate process

Probate is the process whereby the executors of a deceased’s will, or those dealing with the estate if there is no will, are formally appointed by the court. The document is referred to as a Grant and authorises the Land Registry and financial institutions to deal with the persons nominated.

Once a Grant is made it is a public document. If there is a will, then that also becomes public (along with any codicil).

Sealing a will in the Royal Family

The Royal Family however under the Senior Court Act 1981 s 124 are able to have their wills sealed – i.e. not open to public scrutiny.

This started many years ago to disguise a gift of expensive jewellery to a mistress and has continued. Princess Diana's will was however not sealed. But an air of mystery still surrounds it as an application to vary it was made by her executors and was granted, meaning that the terms of her will were changed slightly.

The Royal Family are constantly under public scrutiny and are of course financially supported by the nation. It does raise the question as to whether there should be an automatic sealing of their wills or whether it should be on application.

The use of ‘letters of wishes’ in practice

In practice, we regularly use letters of wishes to sit alongside a will. This letter is for the benefit of the executors of a will and is the deceased's way of directing them as to what they wish to happen. The letter is not made public even when the will is. It can therefore mean that monies can be left to children in a trust within the terms of a will. 

However, the letter of wish would give the detail as to in what way the monies should be used. It must be remembered that letters are not legally binding, but the majority of executors will follow them.

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