Queen Elizabeth is by far the longest-reigning monarch of the U.K. and other Commonwealth realms. It is common knowledge that when she dies, her son Prince Charles will automatically reign as the new king. However, it does not follow that he will also be the head of the Commonwealth.

Prince Charles being the head of the Commonwealth is a matter of discussion. Unlike his kingship, which automatically takes effect as soon as the Queen dies, the leadership of the Commonwealth is not hereditary. That means that Prince Charles may not necessarily become the head of the Commonwealth after Queen Elizabeth’s passing.

The Commonwealth is an international organization with political associations, encompassing various geographical, religious and cultural regions. It is composed of 53 sovereign states around the world and was first led by King George VI in 1949. Following his death in 1952, Queen Elizabeth II was recognized in that capacity by the leaders of the Commonwealth.

When Queen Elizabeth dies, however, Prince Charles will have just the same right to be the next leader as any other head of state of the nations comprising the Commonwealth. Since there is no statutory or constitutional reason for him to automatically take over the role of his mother upon her passing, there is no guarantee that he will head the Commonwealth when he becomes king.

During the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 2018, Queen Elizabeth explicitly told the rest of the Commonwealth leaders that her last wish was for his son to be the next head of the Commonwealth. “It is my sincere wish that the Commonwealth will continue to offer stability and continuity for future generations and will decide that one day the Prince of Wales should carry on the important work started by my father in 1949,” she said.

While Queen Elizabeth has been an effective head of the Commonwealth throughout her reign, she is not the one to call the shots when it comes to the organization’s future leadership. When she dies, all the 53 leaders will decide whether or not Prince Charles will succeed the Queen. The Prince of Wales will still have to secure the trust and support of the other Commonwealth leaders before Queen Elizabeth’s wish for him comes true.

Prince Charles HRH Prince Charles. Ian Livesey/Flickr