The death of The Queen has raised questions about the nature and disposition of her assets, but details of her will and assets are likely to remain confidential, in part because of efforts made by her long time lawyers, Farrer & Co, to exempt her estate from death duties, while the will’s content will remain private.
For a century or more disclosure of wills of both the sovereign and members of the Royal Family have remained private and that will certainly be the case for Her Majesty who, as the source of legal authority, does not have probate applied and so no will is published.
Estimates of Her Majesty’s wealth have been placed by The Sunday Times at an estimated net worth of £370m in 2022. However estimates vary widely
The Queen’s lawyers have been Farrer & Co, the firm that has been the long-term legal representatives of the Queen and many in British aristocracy. Farrer partner Julian Smith has been acting as private solicitor to Her Majesty since 2019.
Julian Smith has a practice area focused on charities law, however like many at Farrer & Co he advises private individuals and others on their affairs, including philanthropy and related matters.
But it is an earlier partner, Sir Michael Farrer, who struck a deal with UK’s then Prime Minister John Major in 1993 to exempt the sovereign from the 40 per cent inheritance tax, to prevent the reduction of the wealth of the royal family.
The bulk of Her Majesty’s wealth comes from the Duchy of Lancaster estate comprising 48,000 acres and which has provided the Queen with an annual income, amounting to £23m in 2019/20.
The entire value of the ‘Firm’ empire has been estimated at $28 billion, including the estate of Scotland, the Crown Estate, the Duchy of Lancaster, the Duchy of Cornwall, and the Buckingham and Kensington Palaces. It was not by any means all owned by Her Majesty.
- The Crown Estate: $19.5 billion
- Buckingham Palace: $4.9 billion
- The Duchy of Cornwall: $1.3 billion
- The Duchy of Lancaster: $748 million
- Kensington Palace: $630 million
- The Crown Estate of Scotland: $592 million
Also known sometimes as Monarchy PLC and ‘the Firm’, this entity comprises senior royals and public faces of the House of Windsor including the new King and wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall; Prince William and wife Kate, the Duchess of Kate; Princess Anne, the Queen’s daughter; and the Queen’s youngest son Prince Edward and his wife Sophie, the Countess of Wessex.
King Charles will only receive the personal assets specifically designated to him by Queen Elizabeth II and her substantial personal assets will be distributed according to her will. He will also receive her share of the Crown Estate.
The Sunday Times said a strong showing from her stock market portfolio meant her wealth was likely to have risen by £5m in just one year when calculating her 2022 wealth.
The Guardian reported last year that in November 1973 the Queen was afraid that a bill proposed by the government would bring transparency to company shareholdings in a way that would permit the public to scrutinise her financial interests.
Farrar & Co were asked to ensure there were changes to the bill, protecting Her Majesty’s and her successors’ interests.
Matthew Farrer, then a partner at law firm Farrer & Co, visited civil servants at the then Department of Trade and Industry to discuss the proposed transparency measures in the companies bill, which had been drafted by Edward Heath’s government.
The bill also intended to prevent investors from building major interests in the listed companies in which the Queen was a major shareholder. It would therefore include a clause granting directors the right to demand that any nominees owning their company’s shares reveal, when asked, the identities of their clients.
Correspondence between civil servants at the trade department reveal how Michael Farrer relayed the Queen’s objection that the law would reveal her private investments in listed companies, as well as their value. He proposed that the monarch be exempted.
Then Prime Minister John Major agreed.
The value to the British economy, now one under significant pressure, is boosted by ‘The Firm’ and the revenue it generates for the country, through tourism and revenues from royal warrants—essentially “stamps of approval” on high-end products.
And so the contents of the Queen’s will is to remain confidential albeit with some doubtless public disquiet as to the tax-exempt status of the vast estate.
As The Times reported, there was a considerable public fuss when it emerged that the Queen Mother’s estate was not liable for any tax when the Queen inherited it: when people wake up to the fact that the Queen’s estate will now also not be liable for any tax there is likely to be similar disquiet, particularly as Charles is already a wealthy man thanks to his income from the Duchy of Cornwall.
The same will probably be true when it is confirmed that the Queen’s will won’t be published. Michael Nash, author of a book on royal wills, said: “It is simply sent to Farrer’s, the royal solicitors, and they will deal with it.”