The late Prince Philip’s Will has been sealed by the High Court – Can we keep our wishes private?

By 24th September 2021Wills

In recent news, it has been ruled by the High Court that the late Prince Philip’s Will is to be sealed for the next 90 years. This is to protect the dignity and standing of the Queen.  This news made me wonder if most members of the public are aware that a Will becomes a public document once probate is granted.

Not all estates require probate, but the majority do and ultimately therefore, one’s Will becomes ‘public property’ if someone were to conduct a search for this and pay the appropriate minimal application fee. It’s worth noting that it’s only the last Will that becomes a public document, so any previous Wills do not find their way in to the public domain as they become void upon the signature of any new Will.

It’s worth noting that it’s only the last Will that becomes a public document, so any previous Wills do not find their way in to the public domain as they become void upon the signature of any new Will.

How can we make our Will and personal arrangements a little more private?

A sealed Will is very unsusual; it is not an option for the wider population. The public nature of a Will further to probate does cause some concern for clients. An option for personal comments is to place a Letter of Wishes alongside a Will. This is an entirely private document to store with your Will and enables clients to convey their true thoughts, affections and feelings to their loved ones further to their death. A Letter of Wishes will not fall in to the public domain. It can be tailored the beneficiaries and/or Executors. In my experience, the type of comments I often see in such documents include:-

  1. Requests of how any legacies would be used for example to help with university costs, property deposits, investing in certain fields etc.
  2. Specific desires that family items such as jewellery and antiques stay within the family and be passed down in due course.
  3. Guardianship wishes and guidance in the event of minor children being left behind.
  4. Wishes for beneficiaries to be ‘frivolous’ with some of the money or indeed often with smaller legacies; this is often sort of ‘permission’ to ‘treat themselves’ on behalf of the deceased.
  5. On occasion, rationale for the exclusion or inclusion of certain beneficiaries or unequal balance of distribution of inheritance.
  6. Detailed wishes for funeral or post death celebrations/remembrance.

I often assist my clients with Letters of Wishes and can draft these for clients if they wish. I think of it as an excellent ‘PS’ to a Will; an explanation and a more personal touch for an otherwise somewhat stark legal Will. These personal notes can greatly aid those left behind so, even if we don’t have the option to keep all our personal wishes private such a Prince Philip’s sealed Will.

Rebecca Reid

Author Rebecca Reid

She is an experienced and well-regarded private client specialist solicitor providing high quality legal advice in the field of Wills, Lasting Powers of Attorney, Probate and Elderly Client issues.

More posts by Rebecca Reid