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/ 28 Jan 2022

30 Secret Royal Wills and Counting?

This week the Guardian newspaper was given permission by the Court of Appeal to challenge the decision of the president of The Family Division of the High Court, Sir Andrew McFarlane, in relation to the Will of HRH The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Sir Andrew McFarlane ruled that Prince Philip’s Will, like many other members of the Royal Family, should be kept secret for a period of 90 years. Prince Philip’s Will now rests in a secret safe in Sir Andrew’s office along with over 30 other Royal Wills. Specifically, the Guardian is seeking to have this hearing, which took place behind closed doors in September of last year, reheard in public with reporters present.

Samantha Fennah

Solicitor

Private Client

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So what happened with Prince Philip’s Will and how many other secret Royal Wills are there?

Prince Philip sadly died in April 2021 and like many with assets to gift to loved ones, he left a valid Will made in 2013. As a general point of law, once someone has died and their Will is admitted to Probate, their Will becomes a public document that anyone can obtain a copy of. However, the Wills of members of the Royal Family are subject to special rules. The Will of the King or Queen has not required a Grant of Probate (the document that allows the deceased’s estate to be administered) since 1822, so would never be made public in the first place. This is not the case for other members of the Royal Family, who until 1910 were treated like other members of the public and had their Wills made public upon the Grant of Probate.

The first member of the Royal Family to have their Will kept secret by law was Prince Francis of Teck, the brother of Queen Mary. Queen Mary in turn was the wife of King George V and the grandmother of our current Queen. When Prince Francis died in 1910, there was general outrage at the fact that he had bequeathed priceless family jewels to his mistress. Terrified of the scandal that would ensue if his Will was made public, Queen Mary (who was then the Duchess of York), successfully persuaded a judge to keep the Will secret. In the end a copy of it leaked to the press in Ireland, but the precedent of secret Royal Wills was set.

Since this first instance over 30 other members of the Royal Family have had their Wills kept secret upon their deaths. The Queen Mother, who sadly died in 2002, allegedly had her Will concealed to hide a massive fortune of jewels she herself had inherited. Princess Margaret sadly died shortly after her mother and left an estate worth over £7 million. Her estate had previously been worth nearly £20 million, but Princess Margaret had taken steps in her lifetime to reduce the size of her estate and thus pay less Inheritance Tax. When the size of her estate came to light, a man called Robert Brown claiming to be her illegitimate son launched legal proceedings to have the contents of her Will made public. His claim was thrown out as it was deemed to be “vexatious and an abuse of process”, and once again the precedent of secret Royal Wills was upheld.

For the time being, Prince Philip’s Will remains in the secret safe along with other Royal Wills. However, this new legal challenge by the Guardian will once again bring the issue of secret Royal Wills to the public’s attention. Who knows what details will come to light if a public hearing is secured by the Guardian?

Why this all matters and how Hanne & Co can help you

Whilst this story may be sensational and gossip worthy, it highlights a key issue facing people in the U.K. A recent study suggested that some 31 million people in the U.K do not have a valid Will. A Will is not just for the ultra-rich like the Royal Family, it is a key document needed by all adults if they want to protect their assets and ensure their wishes are carried out when they die. Hanne & Co can provide you with tailored advice to fit you and your circumstances. From simple Wills to complex Inheritance Tax planning, making a Will is not something that can wait and we at Hanne & Co are here to help you every step of the way.

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