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Court of Appeal’s decision to uphold the tradition of secret Will hearings of the Royal Family

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Court of Appeal’s decision to uphold the tradition of secret Will hearings of the Royal Family

Court of Appeal’s decision to uphold the tradition of secret Will hearings of the Royal Family

In a recent Court of Appeal decision, the Court ruled in favour of the executors of HRH Prince Phillip’s estate in a claim brought by the Guardian.

The Guardian brought a claim, arguing that Sir Andrew McFarlane, had acted incorrectly when he held a secret court hearing in relation to an application to seal Prince Phillip’s Will which did not allow access to the public. The Court of Appeal held that allowing access to the public would have compromised the dignity of the Queen and the royal family’s privacy.

The application to seal Prince Phillip’s Will is part of a tradition that is accepted by the court, the first application being granted in 1911 relating to the Will of Prince Francis. The judiciary has never rejected such an application from the Royal Family in the years since. The grants of probate are published but the value of the estate passing under the grant is often kept confidential.

The judges ruled that that the requirement for open justice was ‘adequately served’ by McFarlane’s decision to release the written ruling explaining the decision made. However, the Guardian have argued that these secret hearings have prevented the public from knowing how the assets included in these Wills have been distributed.

"The decision has caused considerable controversy. Principles of open justice, the rule of law and free press are all being called into question. Despite this, it looks unlikely that the court is going to break the tradition any time soon."

It is worth noting that having access to a copy Will does not always give you a great insight into the value of the estate or even what assets there are in an estate. There may be assets that pass outside of the Will (e.g. life-time gifts, foreign assets and joint assets) which could mask considerable wealth and many Wills are drafted in terms that do not refer to either specific assets or amounts of money.

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If you would like advice on preparing your own Will, please contact Daniel Wilson, or another member of our Estate Planning Team.

You can find out more about our EMW Wealth team here.

Written by Daniel Wilson, with assistance from Sarah Simon.