London (CNN)Leaders of the Commonwealth -- the 53-member group of mostly former British territories -- have agreed that Britain's Prince Charles will be the body's next head.
The decision was announced by leaders gathered for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in the UK.
In a speech formally opening the summit at Buckingham Palace in London on Thursday, Queen Elizabeth II said it was her "sincere wish" that her son Charles, the Prince of Wales, would head the Commonwealth "one day."
Elizabeth has led the Commonwealth since 1952, when she took over the role from her late father, George VI. However the position is not hereditary and it is up to the leaders of the 53 member nations to select a successor.
The issue was debated Friday at a Commonwealth leaders' retreat at Windsor Castle, west of London, on the second and final day of the summit. In their leaders' statement, the 53 member countries said: "We recognize the role of the Queen in championing the Commonwealth and its peoples.
"The next head of the Commonwealth shall be His Royal Highness Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales."
The Commonwealth, a voluntary association of advanced and developing nations, brings together some 2.4 billion people around the world. More than half its members are small states, including a number of island nations.
The Queen's role as head of the Commonwealth, although largely symbolic, has been a defining element of her reign and it is thought to have been important to