skip to content

Death/Estate Duty Records (Wills) Including Scotland & Ireland

Nature of Source

Records from a tax levied on the personal and real estate of the deceased. The records provide a summary or abstract of a will and show how the will was distributed and crucially note the relationship of each beneficiary. The authorities used the documents to calculate death duty taxes.

The death duty registers cover three separate but related taxes, Legacy Duty (from 1796), Succession Duty (from 1853) and Estate Duty (from 1894). Initially the tax was only levied on personal property but from 1805 the previous exemption of the value of property and land was removed with the tax having to be paid on any real estate apart from bequests to spouses and parents. These reforms meant that around 75 per cent of wills and administrations (admons) attracted the tax. Further revisions with the Succession Duty in 1853 led to almost all wills included in the provisions. From 1894, a single Estate Duty was introduced. Each series of duties generated separate registers. Finally in 1899 Reversionary Registers were created which combined all cases dating from 1812 to 1852. From 1903 a new system was introduced based on individual case files which were routinely disposed of.

Before 1853 freehold property was exempt from death duty and not all estates were subject to the duty. For example, bequests to close family members up to 1815 were not subject to the tax but from this date only bequests to a spouse were exempt. However by the 1850s most estates worth more than £20 were covered by the regulations.

The abstracts from the Church courts or 'country courts' and the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC) were collated in separate volumes. After 1857 the abstracts from both courts were merged.

The registers helpfully provide a centralised register of the court where probate or administration was granted. The registers often include additional information to the will such as disputes following probate with reference to chancery law suits. The accounts could provide further information about the beneficiaries such as marriages and deaths. Additional family information could be added years after probate. The actual legacy payments made are recorded in the accounts. However, many of the registers for the 1890s were destroyed by fire and the indexes for the death duty administrations covering 1864 to 1881 which were granted to the estates of those who died intestate, have not survived.

Copies of wills subject to the Estate Duty of testators with an Irish address were deposited with the Estate Duty Office in London between 1812 and 1857. Most of the wills were proved at the Prerogative Court of Canterbury and were kept in London until after 1922. They are of particular value as most Irish wills were destroyed in 1922 and could be the only remaining record of a will. For the period between 1812 and 1821only indexes remain. The collection consists of about 3,000 will and is housed at Public Record Office of Northern Ireland with filmed copies available at FamilySearch Centers.

The death duty records for Scottish estates are held at the National Archives of Scotland and date from 1804.  

Also see
Wills/Testaments and Inheritance (Scotland)
Wills & Admons (Ireland)
Wills and Inheritance and Letters of Administration (Admons) (pre-1858)

Where Found

The National Archives (IR 26, Registers of Legacy Duty, Succession Duty and Estate Duty. Search this series to find specific records of interest using names and place names; IR 27, Indexes to Registers of Legacy Duty, Succession Duty and Estate Duty. These are contemporary indexes to the Estate Duty Office registers recording legacy, estate and succession duties in IR 26; IR 28, Board of Stamps and Taxes and successor; IR 6 copies of letters sent to the Inland Revenue, 1812-1836 [Subsequent letters have been destroyed under statute]; IR 19, Specimens of Death Duty Accounts. The case files have been mostly destroyed)
Society of Genealogists (Estate Duty Will Indexes 1793-1857 on microfilm)
LDS FamilySearch Centers
National Records of Scotland (The National Records of Scotland was created on 1 April 2011 by the amalgamation of the National Archives of Scotland [NAS] and General Register Office for Scotland [GROS])
Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI)

Period Covered

1796 - 1903

Genealogical Value

Deceased's name, address, occupation and date of death; Family relationships including names, ages, dates of death and addresses of beneficiaries and next of kin as well as married names of daughters; Probate court, date of probate and will and the names and addresses of executors.

Further References

Cox, Jane. Introduction to Will, Probate and Death Duty Records: Federation of Family History Societies, 1993  
Grannum, Karen & Taylor, Nigel. Wills and Other Probate Records: The National Archives, 2009  

TNA Research Guides:
Death duties 1796-1903
Death duties 1796-1903: further research

Websites (TNA Guide: Country court death duty registers 1796-1811) (TNA Guide: Looking for records of death duties 1796-1903)
(The National Archives Podcast: Death and taxes: Understanding the Death Duty Registers, by Dave Annal) (FindMyPast Guide to Death Duty Registers) (Research Wiki Guide: Estate Duty Registers) (Devon Heritage Centre: Information Leaflet: Wills and Probate Records) (Research Wiki: Estate Duty Registers) (Research Wiki: Ireland Probate Records) (Guide to taxation records in the National Archives of Scotland)

Online Databases

TNA Online Collections (Death Duty Registers: Death duty registers hold details of wills and bequests for estates liable to death duties. This collection covers the 'country court' registers between 1796 and 1811 but not records from the Prerogative Court of Canterbury. TNA Online Collections is produced by The National Archives and contains online access to indexes, transcriptions and digital images of some of the TNA's most important holdings. Searches are free but a fee is levied for each downloaded item. However downloads are free if used at TNA or the Society of Genealogists) (Index to Death Duty Registers 1796-1903. Transcripts and digitised images of the original indexes created by the Estate Duty of all wills and administrations attracting death duties from all the probate courts in England and Wales extracted from TNA series IR 27) (Death Duty/Estate Duty. Administration Abstracts extracted from TNA series IR26, 1812-1857) (Bath & Wells Estate Duty Records, 1805-11) (Irish Records Index, 1500-1920)