George Hay Chartered Accountants were one of the first accountancy firms in the country to obtain a licence to carry out non-contentious probate work. In our monthly column, we give you an insight into the process and provide an update on what is happening in the world of probate and estates.
It was interesting to read a couple of weeks ago that Prince Philip’s Will was to be kept secret for at least 90 years.
Many people are unaware that once a Grant of Probate has been issued, a Will becomes a public document. It is possible for anybody, subject to paying a nominal fee, to request the copy of the Will of somebody who has died.
The argument for making the Will public is that it enables anyone to challenge the Will.
One of the more common contests are that the person did not have capacity to make the Will, in that they were not fully aware of what they were doing.
Alternatively, somebody could challenge the Will by asserting that it was made with the testator (the deceased) subject to undue influence. This is often seen where, say, one sibling lives at home with the now deceased parent, and another sibling is unhappy with their share of the spoils.
Another challenge relates to the doctrine of promissory estoppel. Under this doctrine, somebody makes a claim saying they had been promised something in a Will and had made life decisions as a consequence of this promise. This is often seen in the agricultural industry.
A son will claim that they had been promised the farm by Dad and had only stayed working on the farm for such low wages because he had been promised that one day it would all be left to him.
In a similar vein, somebody who was dependent on the deceased during their lifetime and feels that the amount they have been left does not enable them to “meet their needs” going forward could put forward a claim under the Family Dependents Act.
When somebody is making a Will, these potential assertions should be pointed out to them and they are factors that a probate practitioner needs to be aware of.
So, why was Prince Philip’s Will exempt?
The first recording of a sealed Will was in 1910 when the brother to the then Queen Mary died, and it is rumoured he left jewellery to his mistress.
Since then, many serving Royals have had their Will sealed, but not Princess Diana who was no longer a “Royal” at the time of death.
The hearing into the application to seal Prince Philip’s Will was held privately in July by Sir Andrew McFarlane, the most senior judge in the family courts, to negate ‘significant publicity and conjecture’.
He heard arguments from lawyers representing the Duke’s estate and the attorney general, the Government’s chief legal adviser, and his judgement was published on 16 September.
As President of the Family Division of the High Court, Sir Andrew confirmed in his judgement that he is the custodian of a safe containing more than 30 envelopes, each containing the sealed Will of a deceased member of the Royal Family, but that he has not seen or been notified of the contents of the Will of HRH The Prince Philip.
This is with the exception of the date of its execution and the identity of the executor of the Will.
Sir Andrew said, “I have held that, because of the constitutional position of the Sovereign; it is appropriate to have a special practice in relation to royal Wills.”
“There is a need to enhance the protection afforded to truly private aspects of the lives of this limited group of individuals in order to maintain the dignity of the Sovereign and close members of her family.”
In the discussion published in Sir Andrew’s approved judgement, he acknowledges the existence of ‘public curiosity’ but affirms his agreement with the submission that there is ‘no true public interest in the public knowing this wholly private information’.
It does however pose the question, “Why, then, is everybody else’s Will deemed to be of public interest?”.
To discuss our Probate & Estates services in more detail, contact Huntingdon-based Barry Jefferd on 01462 708810, or you can email us at email@example.com where your enquiry will be dealt with by one of the team.
Authored by Director of GH Probate Ltd., Barry Jefferd.
Our Probate service is provided through GH Probate Limited. GH Probate is the trading style of GH Probate Limited. Registered in England and Wales number 9630102. Registered Office: St George’s House, George Street, Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire PE29 3GH.
Authorised to carry out the reserved legal activity of non-contentious probate in England and Wales by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England & Wales