As things stand, the public will not get to know the contents of the will.
The practice of sealing these willsdeveloped without any detailed parliamentary debate. The judgment traces the history of the practice. Attention is also drawn to the Court of Appeal's judgment, in 2007, which noted how arrangements had been made between Buckingham Palace, the Queen's solicitors and the Attorney General's secretariat. Those arrangements were approved by the High Court. The 2007 judgment is at Brown v Executors of the Estates of HM Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother and Executors of HRH the Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon  EWHC 1607 (Fam)
Wills - some general points:
There are many sound reasons why individuals ought to "execute" (i.e. make) a will. The reasons need not be discussed here.
The individual making the will is referred to as the "testator."
A properly drafted will will appoint the executor (or executors) of the will who will become responsible for ensuring that the testator's wishes, as expressed in the will, are carried out.
A grant of probate is required before the will may be administered by the executor(s).
After a grant of probate, the will is available for public inspection. This requirement is found in the Senior Courts Act 1981 section 124 and, on payment of a fee, it is possible to obtain a copy of a will (section 125).
Non-Contentious Probate Rules 1987 ('NCPR') Rule 58 provides that a will shall not be open to inspection if, in the opinion of a District Judge or Registrar, such inspection would be "undesirable or inappropriate." These Rules are made by the President of the Family Division with the concurrence of the Lord Chancellor.
The will of the Sovereign (i.e. HM The Queen) does not require probate - In the Goods of His late Majesty King George III (1862) 3 SW & TR 199, 164 ER 1250. This is the only will exempt from that requirement.
As a matter of law it is possible for the court to make a sealed will available for inspection but applications are not, in practice, very likely to succeed. One successful application concerned the will of the late Duke of Windsor. The applicant was the librarian of the Queen's Archive held at Windsor. [See Re His Royal Highness the Duke of Windsor (deceased)  EWHC 2887 (Fam)].
In modern times, given the huge media interest in prominent members of the Royal Family, it is hardly surprising that there is also considerable interest in the contents of their wills but anyone wishing to know is likely to find the will has been "sealed" for a considerable time into the future. We, the general public, are therefore prevented from knowing how their, often considerable, assets have been distributed.
The Duke of Edinburgh:
In September 2021, the President of the Family Division of the High Court (Sir Andrew McFarlane) ruled that the will of the late Duke of Edinburgh should be sealed for 90 years. A link to the judgment has already been provided.
In paragraphs 1 to 3 the judge said -
- The Executor of HRH The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (deceased) has applied for an order that His late Royal Highness' will, executed on 5 June 2013, be sealed up and that no copy of the will should be made for the record or kept on the court file. The application also seeks a direction to exclude the value of the estate from the grant of probate.
- Her Majesty's Attorney General for England and Wales is the sole defendant to the summons. The Attorney General's role is to represent the public interest.
- At a hearing in private on 28 July 2021, having heard submissions from Mr Jonathan Crow QC for the Executor and from the Attorney General, leading Mr Christopher Buckley, I determined, firstly, that the hearing should proceed in private. Having heard further submissions, and following time for consideration, I announced my decision which was that the Executor's applications should be granted.