Every will made in the UK is a private document and should not be discussed with anyone either before or after death, unless the individual making the will chooses to. It will remain a private document unless and until a Grant of Representation has to be obtained to deal with the administration of an estate.
A Grant of Representation is the Court order which the Probate Registry issues to confirm those entitled to deal with the estate administration and to allow the administration to proceed to completion. The Grant of Representation will take the form of a Grant of Probate, if there is a will, or a Grant of Letters of Administration if there is no will or for some reason a Grant of Probate is not the appropriate document.
Statute states that once a Grant of Representation has been issued the will any any other document relevant to the Grant becomes a public document and can be viewed by anyone who wishes to see it.
It is the case that a will of the King or Queen does not need to be proved by a Grant of Probate. It will therefore remain a private document but this is not the case for other members of the Royal Family, so an application must be made to the Head of the Probate Registry for the executors of a senior member of the Royal Family to seal a will.
The first member of the Royal Family, whose will was sealed on direction by the President of the Probate division, was His Serene Highness Prince Francis of Teck, the younger brother of Princess Mary of Teck who married King George V and became Queen Mary in 1910. The most recent wills to be sealed were Her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother and Her late Royal Highness The Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon.
These sealed wills are now held by the President of the Family Division in a safe which purports to contain over 30 envelopes.
An application has been made, and granted, to seal the will of His late Royal Highness, The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. The sealing of this will has marked a change in proceedings to seal wills however. It has imposed a duration for the sealing process which has been applied to all other sealed wills held by the President of the Family Division. From now on, from the date of the issue of a Grant of Probate, a time period of 90 years will pass. Upon expiration of this 90 year period the sealed will is to be opened in private, at the direction of the President of the Family Division, to enable inspection of the will by the Sovereign's Private Solicitor, Keeper of the Royal Archives, the Attorney General and any of the deceased's personal representatives who may be available. If it is deemed appropriate for the will to be unsealed at time steps can be taken to do this. If it is deemed appropriate to maintain the sealed status for a further period of time steps can be taken to maintain the status quo.
His late Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh influenced many things throughout his lifetime and still continues to do so!