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How can Prince Harry and Meghan Markle be 'financially independent'?

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Britain's Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex greet youths on a visit to the Nyanga Methodist Church in Cape Town, South Africa on September 23, 2019.
Britain's Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex greet youths on a visit to the Nyanga Methodist Church in Cape Town, South Africa on September 23, 2019.   -  
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Courtney Africa/Pool via AP, File - Courtney Africa
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Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, took many by surprise with their intention to "work to become financially independent" — but details remain unclear on what this means for a couple who already have considerable wealth.

Their announcement caught everyone off guard, apparently including the rest of the royal family.

They have pledged to "carve out a progressive new role within the institution," which will see them "step back as 'senior' members of the royal family" and "work to become financially independent".

On a new website, they also said they will no longer receive funding from the Sovereign Grant and that they "value the ability to earn a professional income."

What is the Sovereign Grant?

As working senior royals, Harry and Meghan are entitled to some funds from the Sovereign Grant which is the mechanism through which the royal family is paid. It is based on the income generated by the Crown Estate — one of the largest property portfolios in the UK — which is paid into the country's Treasury.

The royal family's latest financial report indicates that the refurbishment of the couple's home, Frogmore Cottage, cost £2.4 million (€2.8 million) and that their official trip to Fiji and Tonga had a £81,000 (€95,000) price tag.

The couple's new website states that only 5% of their office expenditure — which covers employee wages — is covered by the Sovereign Grant, with the remaining 95% given to them by Harry's father Prince Charles, the heir to the throne who is also the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Cornwall.

What is the Duchy of Cornwall?

The Duchy of Cornwall is a royal entity traditionally belonging to the eldest son of the reigning British monarch.

It includes tens of thousand hectares of land as well as commercial property and has a net value of £931 million (€1.09 billion), according to the latest financial report. Its "distributable surplus" was of £21.6 million (€25.4 million) last financial year.

Income from the land and property is used to pay personal and professional expenditures not covered by the Sovereign Grant. Charles also uses the income to fund his various charitable ventures.

When he ascends to the throne, Charles will take control the wealthier Duchy of Lancaster, while his eldest son Prince William will become Prince of Wales and Duke of Cornwall.

Harry and Meghan's website makes no mention on whether they will refuse funds from the Duchy of Cornwall in future.

Will Harry and Meghan no longer cost taxpayers?

Although their new website indicates they will "no longer receive funding through the Sovereign Grant", there is a caveat.

The couple plan to "continue to carry out duties for Her Majesty The Queen." These might include official overseas visits, which, as the couple indicate, are "paid for by the Sovereign Grant as well as contributions from the host country, when appropriate."

It is also unclear if their new status will see them continue to receive round-the-clock armed security provided by London's Metropolitan Police. The section on their website on this topic cites the governmental guidance that "it is a long-established policy not to comment upon the protective security arrangements and their related costs for members of the Royal Family or their residences."

According to UK media reports, the annual security cost for the entire royal family is estimated at around £100 million (€117.5 million).

Harry and Meghan's personal wealth

The couple say their "new working model" is necessary to allow them to earn an income from outside the family firm because, "under the current structure and financing arrangements, they are prohibited from earning an income in any form."

However, they have not indicated how they will earn their own income except to mention the upcoming launch of their new charitable entity.

Some commentators have suggested Markle could return to acting or that the couple could launch a lifestyle brand based on the blog, called The Tig, that Markle had before meeting the prince. The couple could also strike a deal with a streaming service to produce TV shows, such as President Barack Obama's lucrative contract with Netflix.

Even without alternative income, the couple should have plenty to tide them over.

Harry is believed to have inherited at least £7 million (€8.2 million) from his late mother, Lady Diana. The Queen Mother also reportedly left William and Harry more than £14 million (€16.4 million) to share, with the larger share going to Harry because William will inherit the Duchy of Cornwall.

For about a decade, Harry also earned approximately £45,000 (€52,800) a year as a helicopter pilot and captain in the British army.

Markle, meanwhile, reportedly netted up to $450,000 (€405,200) for each of the seven seasons of TV series Suits she appeared in, which would total more than $3.1 million (€2.8 million). She also continues to receive royalties from the show.

Additionally, movies she appeared in, including Remember Me and The Candidate reportedly paid her upwards of $100,000 (€90,000) each. Finally, sponsored content she published on her now-shuttered blog and personal Instagram account also allegedly earned her tens of thousands of dollars every year.

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