Complete the form below to ask us a question or make an enquiry. We’ll get back to you via phone or email as soon as possible.


A royal lesson in keeping things under your hat

Posted on 05th October 2021 in Probate & Wills

Posted by

Gráinne Staunton

Partner & Solicitor
A royal lesson in keeping things under your hat

The judicial decision that the will of HRH the Duke of Edinburgh be kept private for the next 90 years highlights that a will generally becomes a public document once probate has been granted, open to be read by anyone with an interest in the estate, highlighting the importance of discussing intentions to avoid later challenges to the estate and to exclude any confidential information. 

A judicial decision has seen the late Duke of Edinburgh’s will sealed for 90 years, and the value of the estate excluded from the grant of probate.  The ruling highlights an often-overlooked fact, which is that a will, setting out how an individual wishes to pass on their assets, will generally become a public document after death.

This demonstrates the importance of discussing your intentions with your family when making a will to avoid later challenges, as the document may be read by anyone with an interest in the estate, and the need to exclude confidential information from the will. 

This is an issue not just for high profile individuals like the Prince, but while an application can be made to keep the contents private, it needs the court to agree that publication would be undesirable, and that’s not likely to happen in most instances.

The grant of probate is made by a court, following an application by those acting as executors of an estate, and gives the necessary permission for the assets to be distributed according to the wishes of the person who made the will.  At this point, the will usually becomes a public document.

If a partner or family member feels they have not received what’s known as ‘reasonable provision’ in a will, they can bring a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.  Any claims must be made within six months of the date of the grant of probate and should ideally be made before the estate has been distributed.  In the case of a couple who were not married or in a civil partnership, the survivor would have to show they were living together throughout the two years before the death.

It’s best to avoid nasty surprises and potential claims on the estate by discussing your intentions when you draft your will.  Dealing with a contested will can be an expensive process and far better to have that conversation now, than to leave it to your family to sort out after you have gone.

It’s also important to avoid giving confidential information away in the will. For example, setting out bank account details could lead to fraud and this sort of information should instead be put into a side letter and placed with the will, or by using one of the other digitally-secure options that have become available, which allow assets to be accessed by those administering the estate without releasing the information further.

Wills of the royal family were first sealed in the early 20th century but as these applications were heard in private, there was no record of the decision.  In considering the application for Prince Philip’s will, Sir Andrew McFarlane, president of the High Court’s Family Division, has published his decision so as to provide legal and historical context as a framework for future applications.

His decision also sets out that previously granted orders sealing the wills of 30 other senior royals should be in place for 90 years rather than indefinitely.  Even though they may remain private after that time, after 90 years the wills will be un-sealed and inspected in private, so the court can decide. 

The tradition of sealing royal wills started in 1910 after the death of Prince Francis of Teck, who left valuable family jewellery to his lover, leading his sister Queen Mary, to seek a solution that would avoid news of the gift being made public.


How can Tozers help?

While this is not legal advice, and is only intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues, our Wills and Probate team will be able to provide expert advice and support if you are putting in place or amending a Will.

Contact our legal experts


Paper plane


Get the latest news straight from our legal experts.

Subscribe to our newsletter to recieve current, dedicated, suppport and guidance from our solicitors straight to your inbox, wherever you are.

Company & Industry

Related Insights


How Remote Witnessing of Wills Changed During the Pandemic and Beyond

Posted on 29th February 2024 in Probate & Wills, Later Life Planning

In September 2020, the UK Parliament passed an order that amended the Wills Act 1837, a law that dates back to the Victorian era. The order allowed people to make valid Wills by using video-conferencing or other visual transmission, as long as the witnesses could see and hear the testator (the person making the Will) in real time. This was a temporary measure to help people who were self-isolating or facing lockdown restrictions due to the Coronavirus pandemic. The order applied to Wills made on or after 31 January 2020, and was initially set to expire on 31 January 2022.

Posted by

Sue Halfyard

Partner & Chartered Legal Executive

Lasting Powers of Attorney: Why Do I Need Them and When Should I Prepare Them?

Posted on 21st February 2024 in Probate & Wills, Later Life Planning

Making a Lasting Power of Attorney may seem like a task for another day, but as time goes on, our ability to manage our affairs may decrease or be prevented by an unexpected illness or accident. By making sure that you have the documents in place, and registered, this helps to ensure that a trusted person can step in to assist you when you need it most.

Posted by

Alice Carter-Tyler