How rich is the British royal family? No one is certain.

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For the British royal family, the death of a loved one is the same as in any wealthy family. After the immediate mourning, there is an uncomfortable question: what happens to the money?

With the death of Queen Elizabeth II and the accession to the throne of King Charles III, the question arises widely. And while the Windsor house won’t share many of its financial details, a few things are known.

Unlike other wealthy families, members of the royal family enjoy favorable treatment from the government. Neither Charles nor his siblings will have to pay inheritance tax on property passed down from their mother, thanks to a 1993 agreement with the government. Announcing it, then-Prime Minister John Major told Parliament that a royal inheritance should simply not be taxedciting the “unique circumstances of a hereditary monarchy”.

However, the public is unlikely to know the amount of this inheritance. As David McClure, an expert on the subject, has noted, “royal finances are shrouded in fog.”

What was the queen’s fortune?

Estimates of Queen Elizabeth II’s wealth must come from outside sources.

Forbes, for example, fixed his net worth at $500m (about £430m, though we’ll use US dollars here for simplicity). Britain’s Sunday Times put at $430 million in its 2022 list of Britain’s richest people. In his 2020 book, “The true worth of the queenMcClure estimated that he was $468 million.

Either way, that’s only a fraction of the royal family’s assets. Forbes estimates its worth at $28 billion, pointing to the business front of the royal lineage known as “Monarchy PLC”.

The family’s most impressive official property is the Crown Estate, a portfolio of assets that includes luxurious London properties worth $19.2 billion. Although officially owned by the family, it is under the control of the British government, which receives the hundreds of millions of dollars the portfolio generates each year.

But the government then gives 25% of the profits from the Crown Estate back to the Royal Family in what is known as the ‘Sovereign Grant’. In 2021, the public financial statements of the royal household listed the grant at around $99 million – money intended to pay for the upkeep of the palaces and meet other expenses. The royal family’s significant security costs are not included and are instead paid for by the UK government’s treasury.

The reigning monarch also controls the Duchy of Lancaster, a “old body” responsible for a massive portfolio that encompasses 71 square miles and is worth over $950 million. The duchy, established in 1399, made a profit of $27 million last year.

Does King Charles get all that money?

The Queen’s will has not been made public and historically the Royal Family has not released such details after the death of a monarch.

At some point, however, it would be necessary to know which private properties belonging to the Queen will go to King Charles. Balmoral Castle in Scotland and the Sandringham Estate in England were passed on to the Queen by her father, King George VI.

King Charles automatically received the Duchy of Lancaster. In his maiden speech last week, he confirmed he had followed tradition and passed on his own property, the Duchy of Cornwall, to his eldest son Prince William.

The Duchy of Cornwall’s portfolio of land and property, which dates back to 1337, is significantly larger than that of the Duchy of Lancaster. It encompasses 0.2% of all land in Britain, including the legendary Lord’s Cricket Ground and, less glamorously, HM Dartmoor Prison. But its reported profit for the most recent tax year was slightly lower than that of the Lancaster portfolio.

The Royal Family will continue to receive the Sovereign Grant since the new King on Saturday reaffirmed his decision to “continue the tradition of ceding hereditary revenues” from the Crown Estate in return for the grant.

Does the royal family pay taxes?

For the rest of Britain, any inheritance valued at more than $380,000 results in a 40% tax bill. But King Charles will pay nothing on properties, jewelry and investments that are likely worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

The British government has explained the reason in a 2012 memorandum: “The monarchy as an institution needs sufficient private resources to enable it to continue to play its traditional role in national life and to have a certain financial independence vis-à-vis the government in place.”

The same document explains that the UK Crown is also not legally liable for income tax or capital gains tax.

Members of the royal family, however, pay taxes. Under the 1993 agreement with the British government, the Queen and her eldest child sons agreed to pay capital gains and income tax on their personal assets and on income from Crown assets not used for official purposes.

As a prince, Charles paid a voluntary tax of 45% on his personal income from the Duchy of Cornwall. But the arrangement was shrouded in secrecy, with little public oversight of spending against those revenues. His total annual tax liability was not disclosed.

The duchy itself does not pay corporation tax or capital gains tax. In 2013, following reports in the Guardian that the Duchy deliberately avoided taxesUK lawmakers said it had an “unfair advantage” over other companies and called for more transparency.

How does the royal family keep their wealth so hidden?

The royal family are subject to few requirements for disclosing details of their wealth, and there are few ways for prying eyes to peek. Family communications with government are exempt from access to information requests. Their official papers are kept secret by the British National Archives for at least 50 years.

The lack of transparency has led anti-monarchy groups including Republic to call the monarchy “an irresponsible public institution that has the power, secrecy and influence to deliberately abuse its position.” Prem Sikka, a British scholar who now sits in the House of Lords, called the family’s opaque business dealings a “relic of a bygone feudal era.”

Without change, many details of the Royal Family’s private wealth may never be known. Some telling facts about the Duchy of Lancaster’s offshore investments, for example, only surfaced in leaked Panama Papers from 2017. Those detailed roughly $13 million in offshore accounts.

Other reports suggested questionable foreign transactions or arrangements. Earlier this year, then-Prince Charles was accused of offering to help secure a knighthood for a Saudi national in response to a donation to his charitable foundation. Representatives for Charles have denied any impropriety.

And after Prince Andrew, one of his brothers, reached a settlement with a woman who accused him of sexually assaulting her when she was 17, questions followed about how the settlement money had been collected. The case was linked to Andrew’s controversial friendship with US financier Jeffrey Epstein, a sex offender who took his own life while awaiting trial.

Is the royal family costing Britain money?

For monarchists and Republicans alike, the royal family’s record is a point of contention. Is the royal family costing the government money or making it money?

On the positive side, members of the royal family attract money from tourists as well as publicity for Britain. In 2017, a valuation firm called Brand Finance estimated that the monarchy had boosted the tourism sector by the equivalent of over $640 million.

And while the Sovereign Grant has increased, which means more money for the Royal Family, the Crown Estate provides a huge amount of money to the government.

Anti-monarchy groups dispute claims that the royal family makes money – ‘a figment of the spin doctor’s imagination’, they say – and argue that the monarchy actually costs the country around $400million per year. McClure, the royal family expert, estimated the government’s cost of protecting the family at more than $100 million a year.

Reports in the The British press suggested that King Charles, conservationist by nature, hopes to ‘shrink’ the monarchy with fewer ‘senior royals’ involved in public engagements. He also talked about opening more royal properties to the public, a move that could theoretically generate more revenue.

How much exactly? Don’t hold your breath.

Annabelle Timsit in London contributed to this report.

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