Will of His late Royal Highness

The Will of His late Royal Highness, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh

An application was made to the Court for the Will of HRH Prince Philip to be sealed and for no copy to be made for the record or kept on the Court file. The usual practice is for a Will to become a public record document once a Grant of Probate is issued. There have been a long line of applications made to protect the contents of Wills of senior Royal figures, dating back to the time of Queen Mary. More recently the Wills of Princess Margaret and The Queen Mother were also protected by sealing Orders. An attempt was made to unseal Princess Margaret’s Will when Robert Brown made a claim to be her illegitimate child, but the claim was dismissed as being ‘without foundation’.

In Prince Philip’s case, the Court made the sealing Order, but for the first time the Court published its reasons for making the Order. The Court also varied previous sealing orders concerning Royal Wills so that they are no longer indefinitely sealed. The Court indicated that sealing will take place for 90 years from the date of Probate after which the Court will then decide whether to unseal the Will or extend the sealing for a further period. They specifically confirmed applications to unseal a Will during the 90 year period are unlikely to succeed.

However, what the Court did say is that the standard of proof which must be reached for a Will to be sealed, which would mean that inspection of the document was ‘undesirable or inappropriate’, was not an especially high one. Therefore, while this type of sealing Order is used in Royal cases or where there are senior figures who could be adversely affected by their Will becoming public record, it seems that there may be circumstances where it would be possible for an application to be made for a Will to be sealed and for its contents to be kept from the record. Perhaps, for example, if there is a vulnerable beneficiary and their inheritance becoming public knowledge would increase the risk of financial abuse an application could be made for the Will to be sealed to keep the contents private.  

The sealing of Prince Philip’s Will could have beneficial effects for more modest estates, if the standard of proof to obtain the required sealing Order is not out of reach based on the Court’s comments in this case.

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