These registers of the Estate Duty Office were previously known for convenience as death duty registers, but relate to the payment of three different taxes: legacy duty, succession duty and estate duty. The information in the registers was supplemented by the death duty accounts. The registers contain, among other things, the name of the deceased, the date of the will, the place and date of probate, the name and address of the executors, and details of estates, legacies, trustees, legatees and their degrees of consanguinity, annuities and the duty paid.
Two main classes of registers were compiled: firstly, for grants of representation allowed by the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC), and secondly, for each of the remaining courts, known collectively as the 'country courts'. From 1796 to 1811 the registers consist of individual sheets on which extracts of wills and accounts of administrations had been entered by the ecclesiastical courts which had allowed the grants of representation (i.e. grants giving authority for a person to stand in the place of another, as heirs, executors or administrators of a deceased person's estate). They record the bequests and other matters chargeable with legacy duty. The sheets were delivered to the office of the Board of Stamps in London, where they were bound into registers.
Following the Succession Duty Act of 1853, the 'succession registers' were commenced. They contain extracts relating to property for which there was a succession. This series of registers continued up to the year 1894.
The 'succession arrears registers' were opened in 1885 and 1889. Claims for duty for the period 1853 to 1865 and 1866 to 1878 respectively which had not hitherto been noted, were entered.
In 1899 the 'reversionary registers' were created to contain all the present and future claims then extant for the period 1812 to 1852.
The 'estate duty registers' cover 1894 to 1903. Registers listed as 'missing at transfer' from 1894 onwards were destroyed by a fire in the Estate Duty Office. The 'old duty registers' cover 1895 to 1903.
The registers ended in 1903. After 1903 they were replaced with a system of individual files, there being one file for each deceased person, the reference of one such being, for example, OF 2567/04.s. These were destroyed 30 years after being closed; there are therefore no registers after 1903.
Claims for death duty in a large number of cases arose many years after the death of the testator, for example on the death of a life tenant of the estate. To take account of the varying periods before such cases were concluded all the registers are regarded as still 'in the making' for a period of fifty years from the date of opening.
The gradual development of legacy, succession and estate duties means that the surviving registers contain references to varying proportions of grants of probate and administration depending on their date. Before 1805 the registers contain references only to some 25% of the grants of probate and administration as between 1796 and 1805 duty was payable only on personal estate, not on leases, freeholds or real estate. Duty was only payable on legacies and residues over £20, and only when the beneficiaries were not spouses, children, parents or grandparents of the deceased. Between 1805 and 1815 everyone except the spouse and parents of the deceased paid the duty on legacies and residues worth over £20; real estate which the will directed to be sold to raise such legacies or residues was now included. After 1805 the registers are a fuller record, but they still contain references only to some three-quarters of all the grants of probate and administration before 1815.
Between 1815 and 1853 duty was paid by everyone except the spouse on legacies and residues of over £20; and, once again, real estate was only subject to duty if it was to be sold to raise money legacies or residues. By the Succession Duty Act of 1853, duty became payable on the personal and real estate of estates worth over £100, although bequests to spouses were still not liable to duty. According to other provisions of the acts, duty was not payable on estates in Great Britain if the deceased lived abroad. It is only after 1815, and especially after 1853, that the registers contain anything like a complete record of all grants of probate and administration, and even then there are some omissions.
Digital copies of Country court death duty registers 1796-1811 can be searched and downloaded.