High Court rules that Prince Philip's Will must remain secret for 90 years

Following the death of HRH Prince Philip back in April this year, we discussed the possible contents of Prince Philip’s Will and considered to whom he may leave certain elements of his estate. We now know that for the next 90 years and possibly longer, such discussions will remain as mere speculation, as the High Court recently ruled that Prince Philip’s Will must remain secret for at least the next 90 years.
Usually, when a person dies, their will becomes a public document following an application to the Probate Registry for the Grant of Probate. This means that anyone can apply for a copy of the will and see its contents.
However, over the last 100 years, different protocols have applied to members of the royal family and will now also apply to Prince Philip.
Following the July ruling of Sir Andrew McFarlane, President of the Family Division of the High Court, the Will of Prince Philip will not become a matter of public record available for the public to inspect. This is sometimes referred to as the will being ‘sealed’.
Instead, there will be a private process in 90 years’ time whereby it will be decided whether Prince Philip’s Will can be ‘unsealed’. This will be overseen by the monarch’s private solicitor, the keeper of the Royal Archives, the attorney general and by any personal representatives of the deceased who may still be alive.
This ruling by Sir Andrew is a step forward from the previous protocol whereby royal wills were sealed indefinitely. This 90 year rule will now apply to the Wills of the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret, who both passed away in 2002. This will not apply to Princess Diana, whose Will has already been made public.
For those who are not members of the royal family, you should bear in mind that, should a grant of probate be required to deal with your estate, your Will will be able to be seen by any member of the public at a click of a button and at the cost of just £1.50. This may therefore influence how you would like your Will to be drafted.
It may be appropriate to write a ‘Letter of Wishes’ alongside your Will which is a private document that can only be seen by the individuals you address it to. However, a Letter of Wishes is not legally binding, so you should consider carefully what is included in the letter.
If you would like to discuss creating or updating your Will or the inclusion of a Letter of Wishes please get in touch with us on 01384 410 410 and ask to speak to a member of our Private Client team where we will be happy to assist.