Page last updated at 17:23 GMT, Friday, 24 July 2009 18:23 UK

Secret royal wills to be reviewed

The Queen
The Royal Family's wills have been kept under wraps since 1911

The century-old practice of keeping royal wills secret is to be reviewed by a panel which includes senior judges.

The working group has been set up by Sir Mark Potter, the most senior family judge in England and Wales, and it will also look at the rules of will-making.

One potential claimant, Jersey accountant Robert Brown who believes he is Princess Margaret's son, has already tried to have her will unsealed.

The panel is expected to report by the end of 2010.

Since 1911, with the exception of Diana, Princess of Wales, the wills of members of the Royal Family have been officially sealed and not open to public inspection.

The Royal Family have so little privacy as it is, I don't think we should be able to see the details
Hugo Vickers

They were sealed to conceal that Queen Mary's brother, Prince Frank of Teck, had left jewels to a mistress.

Royal historian and biographer Hugo Vickers said the covenant extended to "all sorts of obscure people".

While acknowledging they were a good source of information, he said it was already possible to find out how much money was left.

"The Royal Family have so little privacy as it is, I don't think we should be able to see the details," he said.

"Wills are very personal things and the Royal Family are very open about many things including their finances."

He said while the covenant was introduced to cover-up impropriety, it was wrong to assume the wills of more recent royals might reveal similarly lurid details.

"The Queen Mother left everything she had to the Queen as she is the only person who doesn't have to pay inheritance tax," he said.

If the wills were to made public, he said the Royal Family might opt, like a number of famous people, to leave a letter for their executors, which does not have to be published.

Legal challenges

Mr Brown, who believes he could be the son of the princess and Group Captain Peter Townsend, wants to check the wills of both the late princess and of the Queen Mother.

He has already had one challenge turned down but he has appealed and hopes to have a full hearing later this year.

Mr Brown was born on 5 January 1955 in Nairobi, Kenya, but his birth was not registered until 2 February.

The birth certificate gives the date he was born as 4 June 1955.

He also believes a mystery Privy Council meeting was held on the day he was born.

It was later that year Princess Margaret called off her wedding to Group Captain Townsend, a divorced father-of-two.

Mr Brown says his wish to inspect the royal wills was driven by his desire to know his parentage.

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