We all remember when Diana, Princess of Wales died tragically in 1997, leaving the British public devastated, but also leaving estates practitioners perplexed.
Diana left a Last Will and Testament in 1993 which was subsequently amended by Codicil in 1996. Diana instructed that her assets be held in trust for Prince William and Prince Harry until they reached the age of 25. Furthermore, her Will specified that her personal property was subject to a memorandum in which she directed her jewellery and three quarters of her personal property to pass to her sons, while the other quarter was to go to her seventeen godchildren.
Upon Diana`s death, her mother and sister became the executors of her estate. Her executors sought a variation of the Will to permit delaying the gifts to her sons until they turned 30 and giving each of the 17 godchildren one item from her estate rather than the one quarter value of her personal property (remaining after jewellery).
The executors did not notify the parents of any of the godchildren of the change, which caused controversy when they learned of the variation and Diana`s letter of wishes years later.
The clear question is how the executors got away with failing to follow Diana’s letter of wishes. The court allowed it because it did not contain specific language and instead was considered precatory: Diana’s executors had the discretion as to whether or not to honour the gifts described in the letter.
Diana`s belongings were held by her brother, Earl Spencer, until Harry turned 30 a few weeks ago on September 15.
Among the personal property is Diana`s famed wedding dress and other items that have toured the world as a collection to raise money for charitable causes in the years since her death.
The motivations of the executors in varying Diana’s Will are unclear. It is also unclear why Diana included a letter of wishes instead of including gifts directly in her Will.
In Canada, there are also formalities required for a Will or another testamentary document to be considered binding. These are contained in Part I of the Succession Law Reform Act. Whether Diana`s letter would be considered legally binding or precatory by a Canadian court would depend on the format and execution of the letter.
One thing that is clear here is that Princess Diana owned many beautiful items. A glimpse into some of these unique possessions of the beloved royal can be found here.
Thank you for reading.