Wills occupy a curious place in our collective psyche. They are one of the oldest forms of legal document, having existed in written form since Anglo-Saxon times. They are, wrote Dickens, “the curious old records of likings and dislikings; of jealousies and revenges; of affection defying the power of death, and hatred pursued beyond the grave.”
Wills for Brits are normally hidden from the public, with very few exceptions to review any details.
Every will ever accepted into probate in England and Wales since 1858 is stored in a single depository. Previously, only researchers were allowed access to the contents of the depository.
Now, however, a new project to digitize the wills and put them online for all to see for a small fee allows anyone to read the wills of Britain's rich and famous.
This has allowed for a new window into what those famous people valued.
Recently, The Guardian reported on some of those famous wills in an article titled "Last Orders: What do our wills say about us?"
Some of the wills reported are:
- Princess Diana - She left a small, but not insignificant sum to her butler. She also decreed that her brother was to look after her personal effects until her son, Prince Harry, reached the age of 30.
- A.A. Milne - The rights to Winnie the Pooh were left to four different groups, including the author's family and the Royal Literary Fund.
- George Orwell - Instructed that no biography of him should be written.
- Beatrix Potter - Declared that hunting by otter, hounds and harriers would be prohibited on her Troutbeck property.
The interesting thing about wills in the United States is that they are a matter of public record.
Accordingly, anyone can access your will.
If you would like to keep the details of your estate plan private, then contact an experienced estate planning attorney about probate avoidance planning.
One popular method is to create and “fund” a revocable living trust.
Reference: The Guardian (June 12, 2015) "Last Orders: What do our wills say about us?"