I once heard that the reason Nobel created the prizes was that he was devastated to realize that the invention of dynamite created a new weapon of war when he was a pacifist. Thus, when he died, in his will he left 94% or about 9 million dollars of his wealth to create the six Nobel prizes. As he put it in his will, these prizes are to be given “to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind.” The six areas that the prize is given are: peace, literature, physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, and economic science.
From Infoplease.com, I found this information about the process.
The awards process begins an entire year before the awards are announced, with the administers of the awards inviting nominations from the fall through January 31 of the next year. On February 1, the six committees begin considering nominees and make recommendations to the prize-awarding subcommittees in September and early October. The winners must be announced by November 15. Nobel week begins in early October. The Nobel Prizes are awarded on Dec. 10, the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death.
Infoplease also has this information about turning down the prize.
Prizes are not automatically awarded each year. They can be withheld if there are no worthy candidates or when a world situation makes awarding the prizes impractical. Because of World War II, no awards were given from 1940–1942. Prizes can also be declined. Even if a prize is declined, the winner is entered in the books, but the cash gift reverts back to the fund. In 1937, Hitler issued a decree that forbade Germans from accepting Nobel Prizes. He considered pacifist journalist Carl von Ossietzky’s 1935 peace prize a slap in the face. In 1973 Le Duc Tho refused the Nobel Peace Prize as he did not believe peace had been reached in Vietnam.