Italian inheritance law

What are the principles of Italian inheritance law?

Law n.218, 31st of May 1995 regulates the field of Italian inheritance law in the framework of international private law.

The national law of the deceased party at the time of death determines succession rules.

The Italian legislator adopted the principle of “unity of inheritance”. This principle differs substantially from the one adopted in other countries. Notably common law countries. Unity of inheritance makes a distinction between between movable and immovable assets.

If the deceased was resident in Italy at the time of death, Italian Inheritance law applies to the deceased’s worldwide assets.

Whereas if the deceased lived outside Italy, Italian inheritance law is only applicable to assets in Italy.

Movable assets

The law of the last domicile or last citizenship of the deceased party is applicable to movable assets.

Immovable assets

The national law of the location of immovable assets is applicable. This is the so called, “lex rei sitae” (law of the country where the property is located). One of the most important consequences is that, if the deceased’s estate includes properties located in different states, the succession of each property is subject to the law of the country where the property is located.

The inheritance law that regulates  succession is the national law of the deceased at the time of death

Italian conflict of laws considers the possibility that the national law of a deceased foreign national might defer to the law of another country. Such deferment is however, only effective if the law of the third State accepts the deferment. For example, if an English citizen owned a property in Italy,  succession will be regulated by the law of England and Wales. However, according to  the conflict laws of England and Wales, the law applicable to overseas property is“lex rei sitae”. In other words, Italian inheritance law is applicable to the Italian property.

The testator has the right to submit his succession to the law of the country where he resides. Such choice has to be formally expressed in a will and shall not be prejudicial to the rights that the Italian law provides for, “legittimari” or forced heirs. These are close members of the family who have the right to receive a fixed part of the estate. Whether the deceased had a will or died intestate, legally, the deceased’s spouse or registered partner and children for example must receive a portion of the estate.

If you own property in Italy, it is advisable to make an Italian will

It is highly advisable to make an Italian will in order to limit the consequences of  “testamentary succession”. This also applies where the deceased has not left a will, in such case the Italian law determines which relatives of the deceased have a right to succeed (primarily the spouse, the legitimate and natural children, and the ascendants).

Where there are no heirs, Italian inheritance law assigns Italian assets to the Italian State.

EU Regulation 650/2012 simplifies cross-border inheritance matters

Also known as Brussels IV, EU Regulation 650/2012 came in to effect on 17th August, 2015. The regulation harmonises succession rules in participating EU States, which is all of them except Ireland and Denmark. In an effort to simplify cross-border succession, the EU adopted a single, unified connecting factor – habitual residence.

Brussels IV provides an opportunity to elect a country law to apply to your succession

Brussels IV allows individuals to make an election for the country of their nationality to apply to the devolution of their entire estate. Or, where individuals have multiple nationalities, a testator may choose to apply one of these nationalities.

Testators do however need to take action. If you own a property in Italy, you can nominate a country law in your will. This is known as a Choice of Law codicil.

If you are in the process of making or reviewing your will, it is therefore worth considering including a properly drafted Choice of Law codicil to apply to cross-border inheritance. You need to carefully consider matters such as foreign matrimonial regimes, usufruct, tax consequences, joint ownership structures and other foreign proprietary rights with respect to your estate.

Another benefit of Brussels IV is the European Certificate of Succession (ECS). This allows heirs, legatees, executors of wills and administrators of the estate to prove their status. The certificate is then valid in all other EU Member States.

Brussels IV also provides potential benefits for non-EU nationals

Interestingly, there are also potential benefits for non-EU nationals resident in an EU Member State. Again, you need to make an appropriate Choice of Law in your will. For example, US nationals could nominate US law to apply to the succession of their property in Italy. An Australian with property in Spain could nominate Australian law. A Canadian citizen with property in France could elect Canadian law, and so on.

Finally …

Cross-border inheritance law is a complex matter. We recommend you seek independent legal advice regarding your personal situation.

At De Tullio Law Firm, we have over 55 years of experience managing cross border succession and estate planning matters throughout Italy. We are a full member of STEP, the world’s leading association for trust and estate practitioners. If we can be of assistance, please get in touch.

 

For more information about Italian succession and inheritance, you may find our Italian Succession Guide useful. You may also like to watch our info videos on the subject of Italian inheritance law.

 

Off-Plan Properties in Italy: Delivery Delays

Late delivery: one of the risks in buying Italian off-plan properties

This article is part of a series about the risks of buying off-plan properties in Italy. To read more on the topic, please use our search tool to look for off-plan properties in Italy.

Significant delays in delivery of Italian off-plan properties is one aspect that investors report as being particularly irritating.

Developers and builders can be very persuasive. Whatever you do, don’t feel obliged to sign anything without first seeking independent legal advice.

Penalty clause for late delivery of off-plan properties

Broadly-speaking, a penalty clause is a contractual provision which levies a monetary sum in the event of a breach of terms in the contract. It does not include any compensation payment for actual damages.

Buyers often try to insert a late delivery penalty clause into their contracts for off-plan properties in Italy. However, penalty clauses are generally unenforceable and ineffective under Italian law. 

Generally, the off-plan developer or builder draws up a contract. Often these are major companies. The buyer is therefore unlikely to be able to mutually agree a penalty clause. The agreement will therefore unilaterally favour the company.

The importance of a preliminary contract

The Preliminary Contract (Compromesso) is key in off-plan property purchases. If they are fortunate, off-plan buyers may manage to insert a penalty clause in the compromesso. This would see the refund of a buyer’s deposit. However, in accordance with binding terms of the contract, the buyer would still have to wait for the developer or builder to deliver the property.

Termination clause for late delivery of off-plan properties

A more effective legal safeguard would be to integrate an express termination clause in the compromesso. In effect, the termination of the preliminary contract would automatically occur – whether or not the buyer notifies the seller of the intention to terminate.

To make the clause enforceable and effective, the compresso must explicitly reference the length of delay.

If the seller exceeds the delivery date, either party can negotiate an extension and a new compromesso. Or, the buyer can claim a refund of deposits and/or any other advance payments.

Essential Term

Unfortunately, buyers of Italian off-plan properties sometimes sign a compromesso which promises more than it can deliver. Then, when delivery day arrives and buyers do not receive the keys to their property, the buyer discovers that the Italian law does not provide much protection.

If a compromesso does not include an express termination clause, the buyer can send the developer or builder a formal request to respect terms and conditions. Italian law calls this particular provision an, “essential term”.

The buyer’s formal request should warn the vendor that failure to respect terms and conditions will terminate the contract. The vendor must fulfil contractual obligations within a certain time, which cannot be less than 15 days.

Case law

In a recent court case, where the vendor had failed to comply with an, “essential term”, the Court of Vicenza (judgement n.187/2016) ruled that:

“whenever a delay is considered unbearable, it is possible to start legal proceedings against the builder, or the building company, and to obtain a refund of any advance payments. Furthermore but, only in the case of proven damages, the purchasing party can claim additional compensation”.

Either way, before taking legal action to resolve the situation and/or to make a claim for compensation for damages, an amicable settlement is always preferable. Because legal action through the Italian courts can take at least 5 years and can be very costly, an amicable settlement is likely to be quicker and more favourable. It is the route we would recommend.

Finally …

There are a number of risks involved in off-plan purchases. At De Tullio Law Firm, we are property law specialists. We are present throughout Italy. We would always recommend that you engage a lawyer you choose to ensure that you protect your interests. If the vendor recommends a lawyer, we would caution against it on the grounds of conflict of interest. Before signing any off-plan property-related paperwork, including a preliminary contract, you should seek independent legal advice. If you are unsure about any aspect of purchasing off-plan properties in Italy, we are here to help.

 

You may also be interested in Off-Plan Property in Italy: Insurance And Guarantee. You may also like to watch our info videos about Italian property law.