Unusually, the Will of recently deceased American author Harper Lee, the writer of To Kill A Mockingbird, is to be kept private after an Alabama Judge ordered the record sealed. The judge noted that Lee highly valued her privacy and that she did not want her private financial affairs to be available for public discussion.
A Will is often kept very private during the maker’s lifetime. This can be for many different reasons; in some cases a future inheritance dispute is anticipated and lifetime confrontation unwelcome.
Everyone has an absolute right to keep their Will private prior to death. The situation changes after the person who made the Will dies as it automatically becomes a document on the public record when the Grant of Probate is made (the document issued by the Probate Registry authorising the executors to administer the estate). A copy of the Will can then easily be obtained upon payment of a small fee.
Could a Will be kept secret in this country?
The Non-Contentious Probate Rules 1987 state a Will “…shall not be open to inspection if, in the opinion of a registrar, such inspection would be undesirable or otherwise inappropriate”. This wording is often taken to mean something in the national interest.
In theory therefore the rules allow anyone to apply to the court to seal up a Will. Although it is believed that only the Royal Family has made use of the provision.
If, after the death of a loved one, the contents of their Will is kept secret then understandably suspicions can arise. A similar challenging situation occurs if it is suspected that the very existence of a Will has been kept secret. Steps can be taken to obtain a copy of a Will / verify if a Will is in existence.
The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.