The recent decision by the UK's Probate Registry to seal the Will of Prince Philip caused significant controversy amongst the media due to the apparent denial of universal access to a document of public interest. However, as this STEP article highlights, the judge in making this decision also made some intriguing comments about the right more generally for the Wills of the general public, once submitted for probate, to be accessible to all for a small fee. In particular he highlights that the modern emphasis on personal privacy (a right enshrined in the UK's Human Rights Act) somewhat grates against this concept of universal access.
Wills often identify family members, their addresses and their relationships to the deceased including reasons why some such members have been passed over from benefitting. In my experience it appears common practice for journalists to routinely request the Wills of high profile public figures and then publish their contents - even if it simply relates to stating the estate's value and how the deceased wished their remains dealt with. On a granular level a Will may well state the last address of the deceased leaving it open to the potential threat of burglary or other risks.
There is of course a counter argument that such universal access to Wills allows individuals or charities left money under a Will, should they suspect fraud by the executor(s), to investigate this and hold them to account. Similarly it allows any unsatisfied creditors to identify who is administering the estate and inform them of their claim. However any such parties can also currently make a request for specific access via the Courts (though presumably at considerably greater cost).
In a world of large fines for poor Data Protection, GDPR rules applying across all business sectors and online fraud, there still seems a very real question to be posed as to whether such universal access should remain the norm and that whether we should not all enjoy 90 years of privacy.
'The question of whether such a rule is still justified or acceptable to the public in the 21st century may be an open one,' he commented. 'In circumstances where there is no clear account of the legislature's reasons over 160 years ago for requiring the publication of wills and where, now, the right to privacy is, generally, taken very seriously, it is legitimate to question what weight should be given to the need for openness with respect to a will in any particular case.'