Is a Will a private document?

When you write your Will, you may be wondering whether it will remain a private document or whether it is ever likely to become public knowledge. We take a look at the issues surrounding publication of Wills.

After the death of Prince Philip, the High Court gave permission for his Will to be sealed, so that the public would not be able to see its contents for 90 years. In addition, the value of his estate would not be written on the Grant of Probate.

This is highly unusual, and it is almost always the case that after someone dies and a Grant of Probate is applied for that their Will becomes publicly available.

Grant of Probate

A Grant of Probate is often required after someone dies. This is the document that gives the executor the authority to deal with the estate administration. Once the Grant of Probate has been issued, copies of the Will can be purchased from the Probate Registry by anyone.

The only time a Grant of Probate will not be required is when an estate is small. There is no set limit for a small estate and whether a Grant is needed will depend on the asset holders. Each bank has their own limit above which they will ask for a Grant before they will close an account and this ranges from around £5,000 to £50,000.

Applying for a Grant of Probate

If a Grant of Probate is needed, the executor will first need to calculate and pay any Inheritance Tax which may be due. They can then send the necessary form to the Probate Registry together with a fee and the original Will. The Probate Registry will issue the Grant once this has been done and the Will becomes a matter of public record.

Sealing a Will

It is very rare for a Will to be sealed and is usually only attempted by those dealing with the estates of celebrities. Even then, it is often declined. The law does allow the courts to stop the Will being publicly available if it would be undesirable or inappropriate. It is also possible for only part of a Will to be published. For the time being, it would seem that keeping a Will private is only going to be possible for senior members of the Royal Family.

Keeping matters confidential

There are other ways to keep certain issues confidential however. You could put property into a discretionary trust and leave a Letter of Wishes setting out how you would like the money to be distributed. The letter would not become public, however as it would not be legally binding there is a risk that the trustees might not follow your wishes when the time came. A Letter of Wishes can also be referred to in the Will to dispose of personal possessions.

Avoiding disputes

A well-drafted Will prepared by a professional will stand up to scrutiny and it will be hard for someone to challenge simply on the basis that they believe they should have been included. If your Will needs to deal with sensitive issues, we can advise you on the best course of action and ensure that your Will accurately reflects your wishes and provides for your loved ones for the future in the way that you would want.

Contact us

If you would like to speak to one of our experts, ring us on 0800 781 6658 or email us at enquiries@estplan.co.uk.