Can you keep your Will private after you die?
Once you’re dead, and Probate is needed, your Will becomes a public document. This means anyone can apply for a copy, whether you’re a celebrity or you’ve lived as a hermit for the last 20 years. This might affect the way you go about writing your Will, from the amount of information you share about accounts to those personal digs at an aunt’s fashion sense. Here we look at the ways to make sure some of what’s in your Will stays private.
When Does a Will become Public?
After you’ve figured out whether Probate is needed, you’ll know that the Will you’re dealing is going to enter the public domain. Once a Will has been looked at by the Probate Registry, it becomes a public document and anyone can apply for a copy through the gov.uk website.
Only Wills that are sent to the Probate Registry become public. So the Will that’s in place when you die becomes public, but any Wills that you have written previously will remain private. If a Grant of Probate isn’t needed, your Will remains private between your Executors and those named in it.
Writing a Letter of Wishes with your Will
There might be things in your Will you’d rather not become common knowledge. It might be that you’ve excluded someone from getting anything, or you’re prone to making grand statements of affection in florid prose you’d rather only the intended recipient read.
To avoid this you might want to create a Letter of Wishes. A Letter of Wishes is a document written by you, and can be addressed to your Executors, your beneficiaries (those getting something in the Will) or anyone else that you’d like to pass on thoughts to after you die. A Letter of Wishes isn’t a legal document, which means it will remain private – whatever you put in won’t find its way into the public domain.
What to put in a Letter of Wishes
There’s no template to follow when writing a Letter of Wishes. As it’s not a legal document, you don’t need to worry about whether you’ve included certain clauses or the right legal jargon. It’s a letter signed by you, setting out whatever you’d like your friends and family to know – it’s a rare chance to get creative within the Probate world. But if you need some prompting, here’s what you might put in a Letter of Wishes:
Leaving a Guardian guidance
It’s quite common to choose a Legal Guardian for your children if they’re under 18, and this choice will appear in your Will. But if you’d like to set out any preferences for how your children should be brought up, such as any educational and ethical choices, then you can put these details in a separate Letter which only the appointed guardian will read.
Excluding a particular person from your Will
For whatever reason, you might want exclude someone from your Will. Rather than posthumously opening up a can of worms, especially if the person anticipates receiving something from you, then putting this in a Letter of Wishes makes sure you get the last say without any public outcry.
Writing personal notes
Being dead is a great excuse to write down all the sentiments you were too shy to say out loud while you were still around. It might be that you’re more comfortable with these things being said after you’ve died, or you’ve got a book’s worth of wisdom you need a separate document to even scratch the surface of. To make sure these are read only by the intended person, write them in a Letter of Wishes.
Find out more
If you want to think about your death in greater detail, we’re here to help.
Take a look at our Legal Matters page
Find out more about the financial side of death here