1. Why use this guide?
If you haven't already read the introductory guide to death duties between 1796 and 1903 you should do this first as information in that guide is not repeated here.
This guide to death duty records covers the period 1796 to 1903. It will provide information on:
- the historical background to death duties
- how to find relevant records
- what death duty records can tell you
- common abbreviations used in the records
- how to interpret death duty registers
The National Archives does not have the wills or administrations that the death duty records were created from. If you want to find a will read our research guide on wills and probate records.
2. Essential information
It will help you when searching for records if you know that:
- death duty registers were created by the court where the will was proved and probate was granted
- where the person who died was intestate - left no will - the court granted a letter of administration
- a grant of probate or administration gave the next of kin the authority to distribute the deceased person's estate
- death duty records are arranged according to the date probate was granted - not the date of death
Some records listed in our catalogue are closed to the public. Where this is the case the catalogue description will explain how to request access to the record under the Freedom of Information Act 2001.
Reasons why you might not find a death duty entry include:
- many of the registers for the 1890s were destroyed by fire
- from 1903 onwards only selected files survive - they are in record series IR 59 and all relate to well known people
- death duties were not paid on a person's estate if they died as a result of wounds or disease during active service in the armed forces
The term 'death duties' covers three taxes:
- legacy duty
- succession duty
- estate duty
Death duty registers were created by the courts to record details of estates where these taxes were due.
Larger courts might have a number of registers for each year; smaller courts might have one register covering more than one year.
For information on the history and arrangement of death duty registers read the 'description' and 'arrangement' sections of the notes for record series IR 26 in our catalogue.
From 1796 bequests to children, spouse, parents and grandparents were not taxable. In 1805 this exemption was reduced to spouse and parents, and from 1815 only bequests to the spouse were exempt.
4. Information in the death duty registers
The death duty registers are in record series IR 26. They cover the period 1796 to 1903 and can show:
- what happened to someone's personal estate (not freehold) after death
- what the estate was worth, excluding debts and expenses
- the name of the deceased, with address and last occupation
- the date of the will
- the place and date of probate
- names, addresses and occupations of the executors
- details of estates, legacies, trustees, legatees, annuities
- the duty paid
They can also give the date of death, and information about the beneficiaries. Family relationships were often noted because close relations didn't have to pay duties on their inheritance.
Notes were sometimes made on the registers many years after the first entry. They recorded things like
- date of death of spouse
- date of death or marriage of beneficiaries
- births of posthumous children and grandchildren
- change of address
- references to law suits
- cross references to other entries
Before 1812, the registers include very brief abstracts of wills. After 1812, copy wills were made, but these have largely been destroyed.
From 1857 there are entries in death duty registers for all estates worth more than £20. Often though, those worth less than £1500 didn't have the taxes collected and not much was recorded about them.
Some common abbreviations in these records include:
- SP (of the same place)
- NE (no entry)
- & ors (and others)
- & anor (and another)
Reversionary registers were created to contain all the present and future claims for the period 1812 to 1852.
If you are researching an estate which had any part of it left in trust before 1852 it might be worth looking at these registers.
You can search them using the Advanced search option in our catalogue, use 'reversionary' as your keyword, and 'search within', the reference IR 26.
5. Finding country court death duty indexes and registers online 1796-1811
Between 1796 and 1811, each church probate court was indexed separately. The courts other than the Prerogative Court of Canterbury are collectively known as the 'country courts' and their registers are available online.
6. Finding death duty indexes and registers using our catalogue 1796-1903
The process involved in finding a death duty register can be complicated. You need to identify the right one according to
- the court that created it
- the year the will was proved or letter of administration was granted
- what letter the surname begins with
There are three steps to finding the right register.
Step 1: Search and view the indexes to the registers in IR 27
Go to findmypast (£There may be a charge for accessing this information. Searching indexes may be free.) and search by surname and year (you are searching IR 27 which contains the indexes to the death duty registers in record series IR 26).
From your results, find the index entry which relates to your individual. You can distinguish between the results according to the courts that created the index, whether it covers wills or administrations and the year the grant of probate was issued.
Step 2: Find a folio or an entry number in IR 27
Once you find the entry for your person at Step 1, look for the number written next to it.
From 1796 to 1811 there will be an 'entry number' and in later indexes a 'folio number'. Note down this number as it will help you to identify which is the right death duty register in record series IR 26. An index entry with no folio reference this means that no tax was payable so there will be no death duty record.
Step 3: Search our catalogue to find the relevant death duty register in IR 26
a reference like RR/41/J/12 refers to 'reversionary registers'. You can browse these in our catalogue to find the right one (there are only 11 files). Click on 'details' to see the folio range that each file covers.
a reference like RA 767/46 1 LD refers to 'residuary accounts' (in this example 767 refers to the folio number and 46 refers to the year 1846). Most of these have been destroyed, although a few still survive in IR 19. To find them, use the Advanced search option in our catalogue. Enter the keyword 'will' or 'administration', the relevant year, and 'search within' IR 19. There are some residuary accounts relating to well known people in IR 59. To find them, use the Advanced search option and search by name within IR 59.
a reference like SA 85/120 refers to succession duty registers. To find them, use the Advanced search option in our catalogue. Enter the exact phrase "succession registers", the relevant year and in 'search for or within references' IR 26. Find the file for the right letter and folio range.
The registers are organised in ranges of folio numbers - such as 251-500 - so searching for folio number 276 won't pick anything up.
Similarly, the registers are organised alphabetically by first letter of the surname, but they are in ranges - such as L to N - so searching for M won't get any results.
Otherwise, the best way to proceed is to use the Advanced search option in our catalogue and to put in information as follows:
- enter the keyword 'will' or 'administrations' according to what you saw in the index
- under 'date range' enter the year the will was proved or the administration was granted
- under 'search within' enter the departmental reference IR 26
You will probably get a number of results. Identify the one with the right range of folio numbers and the right alphabetical range. This will be the right death duty register for your person.
Some registers are available online but most are on microfilm or are original documents so you will need to visit us at Kew or order copies.
7. Other records associated with legacy duties
The following record series also contain records relating to death duties:
- IR 19 specimen death duty accounts
- IR 59 death duty accounts for well known people
- IR 6 correspondence on contentious cases
- IR 7 correspondence on contentious cases for Scotland
- IR 49 and IR 50 contentious cases reported to the Treasury
- IR 67 legacy, succession and probate duty case books
- IR 62 precedent files. Files with piece numbers 1-1050 are not kept at Kew and will need to be ordered three days before you plan to visit
- IR 98/1-9, IR 98/30-31 death duties cases
- IR 99 solicitors' opinions and reports relating to death duties cases. Files with piece numbered 1-170 are not kept at Kew and will need to be ordered three days before you plan to visit
- E 188 miscellaneous petitions relating to appeals against Inland Revenue assessments for estate or succession duty
8. Records in other archives
Copy wills from the major local probate courts in Cornwall, Devon and Somerset were sent to the respective local archives. See the Somerset Heritage Centre website for more information about the wills they hold.
You can also search our catalogue to find records held elsewhere. Refine your results using the filters.
9. Interpreting the registers
The registers changed over time. The table below takes a register from 1837 as an example, and indicates what each column means, and what you can expect to find in it.
|First set of column headings|
|1-2||Name and date||also address and date of death|
|3||Date of will|
|5-6||Residence||residence of executors|
|7-8||Description||occupation/rank of executors|
|9-13||Where and when proved||court and date at which the will was proved |
Sample abbreviations used
ArchCt/Totnes/archd'on = Archdeaconry court of Totnes
BishCt/Lichfield / = Bishop's (consistory) court of Lichfield
ConCt/London = Consistory court of London
ConstEpic/Wells = Episcopal Consistory Court of Bath & Wells
Deans/Lichfield = Dean and Chapter of Lichfield
Ecclesi/St Albans = Archdeaconry of St Albans
ExCt/York = Exchequer court of the Archbishop of York
PC/Cant.y = Prerogative court of Canterbury
PecuC/Biggleswade = Peculiar court of Biggleswade
RuralD/Chester = Rural Dean of Chester
|14||Sum sworn under||approximate value of the total estate|
|Second set of column headings|
|1||Legacies||description of size and types of items bequeathed in the will|
annych'd on R and P Est = annuity charged on real and personal estate
chgd = charged
3 P C Cons = 3% Consols
3 P C Red = 3% Reduced bank annuities
|2||Observations||notes on the legacies or other information for the purposes of estimating duty payable|
|3||To whom in trust||to whom estate is entrusted, i.e. the executors |
the date of codicils to the will in which various legacies are bequeathed
exors = executors
|4||For what purpose||what is to be done with the legacy; |
into how many portions it is to be divided,
upon what conditions legatees are entitled to it,
whether the legacies have to be converted into certain forms for payment, etc.
|5||Legatee||to whom the legacies are due |
Resy Legatee = residuary legatee (i.e. the legatee who receives the remainder of the estate once the claims of the other legatees have been satisfied)
|6||Consanguinity||relationship of the legatee to the deceased for the purposes of calculating the rate of duty payable on the legacy |
Abbreviations used - see separate table, below
|7||Upon what contingency or, if in succession, of equal rate||upon what conditions the legacies are bequeathed and procedures to be followed when the legatee dies - i.e. does the legacy pass to the legatee's heirs or to other defined persons? |
Abbreviations used - see separate table, below
|8||What deemed||the form of the bequest; whether an absolute gift or an annuity and whether there are any contingency clauses to the bequest|
abs = absolute legacy (i.e. no strings attached)
abs & int = absolute and interest
abswp = absolute legacy with a proviso (conditional grant)
anny = annuity
anny wp = annuity with a proviso (conditional annuity)
dwp = ditto (usually absolute) with a proviso
in deft of appt eqy amg them = in default of apportionment equally among them
|Columns 9-14||These columns sometimes contain no information, presumably because duty was never paid or because there were insufficient assets to pay for legacies. In place of such information is often a reference such as 'RA 767/46 1 LD' which refers to 'residuary accounts'. These have been destroyed, although a few still survive in IR 19 and IR 59.|
|9||Age of annuitant||age of the annuitant; given in some cases only|
|10||Value of annuities and bequests||value of actual bequests received by legatees or total value of annuities as computed for paying duty|
|11||Rate of duty||percentage of bequest or annuity to be paid as duty according to degree of consanguinity|
|12||Date of payment||date when payments of duty took place|
|13||Annuity instalments||value of instalments of duty paid on annuities - there were usually four such payments|
|14||Total duty||total duty paid on legacy|
|Abbreviations used in column 6 of the 2nd headings: consanguinity|
|BF||brother of a father (uncle)|
|BM||brother of a mother (uncle)|
|Child or Ch||child of deceased|
|DB||descendant of a brother (niece, nephew, etc.)|
|DS||descendant of a sister (niece, nephew, etc.)|
|DBF||descendant of a brother of a father (i.e. cousin)|
|DBM||descendant of a brother of a mother (i.e. cousin)|
|DSF||descendant of a sister of a father (i.e. cousin)|
|DSM||descendant of a sister of a mother (i.e. cousin)|
|DBGF||descendant of a brother of a grandfather|
|DBGM||descendant of a brother of a grandmother|
|DSGF||descendant of a sister of a grandfather|
|DSGM||descendant of a sister of a grandmother|
|SF||sister of a father (i.e. aunt)|
|SM||sister of a mother (i.e. aunt)|
|Str or Stra or Strag||stranger in blood|
|Stra BL||stranger, brother-in-law|
|Stra DL||stranger, daughter-in-law|
|Stra NC||stranger, natural child (i.e. illegitimate)|
|Stra ND||stranger, natural daughter (i.e. illegitimate)|
|Stra NS||stranger, natural son (i.e. illegitimate)|
|Stra NC (of a daughter)||stranger, illegitimate child of a daughter|
|Stra NC (of a son)||stranger, illegitimate child of a son|
|Stra (sent)||stranger, servant of deceased|
|Stra SL||stranger, sister-in-law or stranger, son-in-law|
|Stra or 'son'||stranger, natural son (i.e. illegitimate)|
|Stra or 'daughter'||stranger, natural daughter (i.e. illegitimate)|
|Abbreviations used in column 7 of the 2nd headings: contingency|
|contingency||conditions of bequest|
|int durg miny prinl when 21||interest on bequest payable during minority of legatee and principal when legatee attains 21 years of age|
|p or princl||principal|
|reversion||bequest reverts to another legatee upon a certain condition, e.g. the death of the first beneficiary|
|ring etc.||mourning ring and other bequests|
|SER or suc of equal rate||succession of equal rate after death of legatee, i.e. equal division of the bequest amongst the heirs of the legatee|
|until she attns 21 or marr||legacy not operable until the beneficiary reaches the age of 21 or marries|
|when 21 with accumls||legatee to receive principal and accumulated interest on it when he reaches the age of 21 years|
|with bent of survp||with benefit of survivorship, i.e. if a bequest is distributed between a group of legatees and one dies, the rest are entitled to share out that legacy equally amongst themselves within six months = payment of legacy within this period|
|Abbreviations found in various columns of the death duty registers|
|de bonis non /15th Oct 1851/||date of later grant of administration|
|in resd||in residue|
|not liable||the bequests are to relatives too closely related to the deceased for duty to be payable|
|not subject to Duty||legacies are to be paid out of the profits of land charged on real estate sales and are therefore (pre-1805) not liable to duty|
|P E||personal estate|
|R A /1448-1837/||Residuary Account, Number /1448-1837/ - reference to accounts of money received as duty. Most of these accounts have now been destroyed, although a few remain in IR 19 and IR 59.|
|R E||real estate|
10. Further reading
Use our library catalogue to find a recommended book list.
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