Princess Diana’s Death: How Much She Was Worth, What Her Will Said, and Why Her Family Secretly Changed It
At the time of Princess Diana’s death, everything changed. Prince William and Prince Harry were suddenly without their beloved mother. Queen Elizabeth II went through what the BBC characterizes as the worst week of her reign. And Britain found itself mourning the most beloved member of the royal family. But one thing that Princess Diana’s death didn’t change? Human nature and people’s preoccupation with money.
Satisfy your own curiosity by discovering all the details on what happened to the vast estate after Princess Diana’s death. Find out how much she was worth, what was in her will, and why two members of her family secretly chose not to honor Princess Diana’s wishes and change the inheritance she left to Prince William, Prince Harry, and her godchildren.
1. How much was Princess Diana worth at the time of her death?
At the time of Princess Diana’s death, she had a net worth of £21 million, the equivalent of $31.5 million at the time, according to GOBankingRates. A large portion of that came from her divorce settlement from Prince Charles, as you’ll see on the coming pages. GOBankingRates reports that before the divorce, the royal family paid Princess Diana’s expenses, said to be up to $1.2 million per year. Because she only lived for a year after the divorce, she didn’t have much time to manage her own money. That might be one reason why the executors of her estate didn’t honor the wishes she laid out in her will.
Next: She left a sizable estate behind at her death.
2. What did her estate include?
At the time of Princess Diana’s death, she had been divorced from Prince Charles for one year and three days, according to The Balance. Her estate consisted of stocks and other investments, as well as cash from her £17 million divorce settlement. It also included her jewelry, dresses, and other personal belongings. (Those items had a value of an eye-popping £21 million at the time of her death.) Forbes reports that her assets netted her heirs nearly £17 million after estate taxes.
Next: Much of Princess Diana’s net worth came from the royal family.
3. What percentage of her money came from Prince Charles?
Much of Diana’s net worth did come from Prince Charles. The Telegraph reports that according to Prince Charles’s banker, Charles was “taken to the cleaners” during their divorce. Geoffrey Bignell said that Charles had to sell his entire investment portfolio. Bignell explained, “I was told to liquidate everything, all his investments so that he could give her the cash.” He added, “That’s when I stopped being his personal financial adviser because he had no personal wealth left.” GOBankingRates reports that Princess Diana received $25 million in the divorce. But don’t worry about Prince Charles: He has an estimated $100 million fortune at his disposal, with total assets reaching $1.3 billion in 2016.
Next: She thought about how she wanted to divide her estate.
4. Did she have a will?
Princess Diana left behind a will. She had signed the documents on June 1, 1993, four years before her death. Diana planned to leave her estate in equal shares (in trust) to Prince William and Prince Harry. She modified the will by a codicil on February 1, 1996. In that supplement, she changed the executors and trustees from her mother and her personal secretary to her mother and her sister. Thus her mother, Frances Ruth Shand Kydd, and her sister, Lady Elizabeth Sarah Lavinia McCorquodale, became co-executors and co-trustees at the time of Princess Diana’s death. And that gave them the power to interpret Princess Diana’s will as they chose.
Next: Her will laid out how she wanted her money and possessions divided.
5. What did her will say?
We’ll start with the basics on how Diana intended to divide her estate. Princess Diana’s will left £50,000 to her butler. In a document called a Letter of Wishes, she left 75% of her jewelry and possessions to Prince William and Prince Harry. Then, she specified that the remaining 25% of her “chattels,” or personal effects, would go to her 17 godchildren. Her will also established a Discretionary Fund — more on that on the coming pages — for Prince William, Prince Harry, and their future spouses and descendants. And then she left the balance, known as the “residuary estate,” in equal shares to Prince William and Prince Harry.
Next: She had this condition for her sons’ inheritance.
6. Were there strings attached to Prince William and Prince Harry’s inheritance?
As The Balance reports, Princess Diana’s will stipulated that Prince William and Prince Harry’s shares of the residuary estate would be held in trust until each prince turned 25. Such age minimums have become a common feature of wills and trusts. LegalZoom notes that “people cannot legally inherit money or other property from you until they reach the age of adulthood.” And if you set up a will or a trust for someone, you can also set a specific age at which the beneficiary can take control of their inheritance. Diana chose the age of 25. But the executors of her estate didn’t honor that wish.
Next: Princess Diana’s mother and sister chose to ignore her instructions.
7. Did Diana’s family really change her will?
If you’ve heard that some controversy ensued over the will and estate after Princess Diana’s death, you heard correctly. In fact, the executors of her estate chose to change some of the inheritances that Diana left her children and godchildren. In December 1997, just months after Princess Diana’s death, her mother and sister obtained what The Balance characterizes as a “secret variation order” from the High Court of Justice. Under the terms of “The Arrangement,” they decided to distribute Princess Diana’s estate differently than she had planned.
Next: The move meant a change for Prince William and Prince Harry.
8. How did the changes affect Prince William and Prince Harry?
Princess Diana intended her sons to receive their inheritances when they turned 25. But the most significant change by the executors delayed the distribution of the princes’ shares of the estate until they turned 30. William and Harry got access to the income from their trusts at 25. But it wasn’t until each turned 30 — Prince William in 2012 and Prince Harry in 2014 — that they inherited their share of the residuary estate. Experts estimate that on each prince’s 30th birthday, their shares of the residuary estate reached £10 million each. That equates to about $16 million.
Next: Princess Diana’s mother and sister also changed what Diana’s godchildren received.
9. Did her mother and sister change any other terms of the will?
Prince William and Prince Harry weren’t the only ones affected by the family’s secret changes to Princess Diana’s will. GOBankingRates reports that Diana’s mother and sister also changed the inheritances of Diana’s 17 godchildren. They amended the will to give each godchild just one item from the estate. According to the publication, that move “effectively stripped all intended recipients of a share worth approximately $160,000.” And Forbes reports that they made that change without notifying the parents of any of the godchildren. (Most were minors at the time.)
Next: Princess Diana planned to give her godchildren a lot more than they actually got.
10. How much did the godchildren lose out?
The changes to Princess Diana’s will remained a secret for several years. Then, unrelated court proceedings revealed the what Diana’s mother and sister had done. According to Forbes, “When the parents of the godchildren were told about the Letter of Wishes, they were, by and large, shocked and outraged.” The publication explains, “Instead of receiving one-quarter of the personal property (each share of which would have been worth, conservatively, £100,000 or $160,000), each godchild received what was called by some a ‘tacky memento.'”
Next: The court let Diana’s executors make the changes for one surprising reason.
11. How did they executors get away with the switch?
So how did they get away with it? Forbes notes that the court allowed the executors — Princess Diana’s mother and sister — to change the will because the Letter of Wishes left out language required by British law. That part of the documents used words like “discretion” and “wishes.” Ultimately, that meant that Diana’s mother and sister could decide whether or not to honor her wishes. Some have argued that the executors just wanted to protect the interests of Prince William and Prince Harry. But the change meant that all of Diana’s belongings could be held until Harry’s 30th birthday — and that’s where things get interesting.
Next: Her belongings ended up on display.
12. What happened to Princess Diana’s personal possessions?
Diana’s brother, Earl Spencer, looked after her personal possessions during the 17-year gap between Princess Diana’s death and Prince Harry’s 30th birthday, according to GOBankingRates. The collection of 150 objects went on public display for two months out of each year at Althorp, the Spencer family estate. The collection included her wedding dress, two diamond tiaras, and family jewels. It also included home movies, letters, and photos. When not on display at Althorp, the exhibition traveled the world — generating a surprising amount of money along the way.
Next: Diana’s possessions generated a lot of revenue.
13. How much did the exhibition earn?
Forbes reports that as the collection of Diana’s belongings traveled the world, it raised more than $2 million. “The Spencer family says the proceeds were donated to a charitable fund created in Diana’s memory after she passed, called the ‘Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund,'” Forbes explains. That doesn’t sound so bad. But the publication points out that many questions remain unanswered. Why did the Spencer family disregard Princess Diana’s wishes and delay the distributions to William and Harry? Did they do it with revenue for Althorp in mind? Would Princess Diana approve? Do Prince William and Prince Harry? We may never know.
Next: Many people tried to make money after Princess Diana’s death.
14. Who else tried to make money from Princess Diana’s death?
It doesn’t feel great to assume that the Spencer family tried to make money from Princess Diana’s death. But they wouldn’t have been the only ones. Newsweek reports that after Diana’s death, “genuine public sorrow mingled with glaring efforts to merchandise her memory.” People wrote books, sold memorabilia, and generally capitalized on the outpouring of grief over the death of the “people’s princess.”
Next: How does Meghan Markle factor in?
15. Does Meghan Markle get any of Princess Diana’s estate?
Finally: What about Meghan Markle? Newsweek reports that Markle’s marriage to Prince Harry made her a wealthier woman. Harry has a rumored net worth of $40 million, in part due to his inheritance from Princess Diana. Plus, his expenses as a working royal are paid by the estate of Prince Charles. But as The Balance reports, Princess Diana’s will also established a Discretionary Fund for the benefit of Prince William, Prince Harry, and their future descendants and spouses. It was funded by intellectual property rights, all wearing apparel, £100,000, and income earned by the fund’s assets. The income earned is to be distributed among the beneficiaries — and that likely includes Meghan Markle.
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