It was widely reported in the news last month that the will of the late HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh would be sealed and kept private for a period of 90 years. The High Court ruled that it was both undesirable and inappropriate for the will to be open to public inspection.
So, other than in exceptional cases, when does the content of a deceased person’s will ordinarily become available for public inspection?
One of the most frequently asked questions we receive in our team is whether a person is entitled to see a copy of the will of someone who has died. People naturally want to know who the deceased has chosen to leave their estate to, but the answer depends on whether a grant of probate has been issued in the estate or not.
Until probate has been granted, the will remains a confidential document, available only to the named executor(s) appointed in the will. A copy of the will may be disclosed, but it is at the discretion of the executor(s) whether to release a copy. It is quite often, at this stage, that we would be instructed by a client to engage with the executor(s) or the solicitor who prepared the person’s last will.
Once a grant of probate has been issued by the Probate Registry, the will becomes a public document and anyone can then apply for a copy. The easiest and quickest way to find out if a grant of probate has been issued, is to undertake a free search online.
If your search is successful, the deceased person’s name will appear and you will be able to order (currently for a £1.50 fee) a copy of the will and grant of probate. If your search returns a negative result, you can either continue to search routinely on the same website, or you can make a standing search application to the Probate Registry for a fee currently of £3.
If a grant of probate is issued in the deceased’s estate within six months of the entry of your standing search, you will automatically be sent a copy of the grant and will. The standing search can also be extended.