The High Court has ruled that the will of the late Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh shall remain a secret for 90 years. It was decided that it was both undesirable and inappropriate for the will to be open to public inspection. It was also revealed that Sir Andrew McFarlane, president of the family division, holds the wills of 30 deceased senior royals. However, we do not all get the royal treatment and this recent decision leads to questions surrounding the privacy of our wills. Have you considered what happens to your will after death and who is able to see it?
Depending on the value of the estate, when someone dies the Executor (the person appointed to deal with the estate) will need to apply to the court for authority to deal with the deceased’s assets. This process is known as Confirmation (or Probate, in England) and usually before Confirmation it will only be the Executor who can see the deceased’s will. However, when applying for Confirmation the Executor must provide the court with an inventory of all assets from the deceased’s estate. This inventory might include for example any money, property or shares that the deceased owns and the value of these. Once Confirmation is granted, the will and inventory become public and anyone can obtain a copy of the will and Confirmation for a small fee. Whereas in England & Wales whilst the will is also a public document there is no inventory of assets and only the gross and net estate are in the public domain.
During the executry process, estate accounts will usually be prepared and these will set out the full details of the administration of the estate. Whilst those who have been left a legacy in the will are not entitled to see the estate accounts, the residuary beneficiaries (those who are entitled to a share of the estate after all debts and expenses have been paid) are entitled to see the accounts. Furthermore, those entitled to claim legal rights (spouses and children) will not receive a copy of the will but they will be informed of their entitlement to allow them to make a decision on whether or not they would like to claim their legal rights.
Alongside a will, some people also have a letter of wishes and this document can be a useful tool for an Executor as it can assist them with understanding your reasoning for the decisions you have made in your will and provide them with guidance for administering your estate. A letter of wishes may include sensitive and confidential information so it is important to note that this document will not become public after your death. Therefore, it may be the case that you would like certain information to be included in a letter of wishes rather than in your will. Please note however, that a letter of wishes is not a binding document and therefore it is advisable to speak to a Solicitor before considering including this with your will.
Our private client team can offer tailored advice and support when making your will. Our experts can talk you through the process of preparing your first will or assist you with amending a will that you already have in place.
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