What happens if a king or queen is too ill to work? There's a plan for that

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Following King Charles III's cancer diagnosis, Buckingham Palace said Feb. 5 that though British monarch is temporarily postponing his public-facing duties, he will continue with state business as usual.

According to the palace, Charles returned to London on Feb. 5 from his royal estate in Sandringham to begin outpatient treatment.

“The King is grateful to his medical team for their swift intervention, which was made possible thanks to his recent hospital procedure,” a statement from the palace said. “He remains wholly positive about his treatment and looks forward to returning to full public duty as soon as possible.”

As the University College London explains, the king will carry on with his essential constitutional duties, like holding audiences with officials in private — but he will not appear at events taking place in public.

However, this does not mean that Prince William, who's next in the line of succession, has been called at this time to act as regent, nor does it mean the Counsellors of State — royals who have been appointed to act in his place — have been tapped to carry out his constitutional functions.

So what could happen if — rather than abdicating the throne entirely — a sovereign becomes too ill to work? Here's what to know.

The Regency Act 1937 and Counsellors of State, explained

Regency Acts are acts created by Parliament if a reigning monarch is incapacitated or unable to carry out their official duties. A regent is the person appointed if a monarch becomes “permanently incapacitated,” per the House of Commons, a democratically elected house of the UK Parliament.

The Regency Act 1937, according to UCL, created the office of Counsellor of State to "cover short-term absences where a regency would be unnecessary." This allows certain royals appointed by the Letters Patent to carry out constitutional duties for the king in the case that he is abroad or unwell.

Who are King Charles' Counsellors of State?

In the case of a monarch, the Counsellors of State are typically the queen consort and the next four people in the line of succession who are over age 21, according to UCL.

Per the royal website, for Charles, those people are his wife, Queen Camilla, 76; Prince William, 41; Prince Harry, 39; Prince Andrew, 63; and Princess Beatrice, 35.

The Counsellors of State Act 2022 made Charles' younger siblings, Prince Edward, 59, and Princess Anne, 73, Counsellors of State for Charles as well, even though they have been overtaken in the line of succession.

Edward and Anne are respectively 14th and 17th in line to the throne. William's kids — Prince George, 10, Princess Charlotte, 8, and Prince Louis, 5 — and Harry's kids — Prince Archie, 4, and Princess Lilibet, 2 — as well as Andrew, Beatrice, Princess Eugenie and their young children, are all ahead of them.

This article was originally published on TODAY.com