Tag Archive for: Italian Inheritance Law

Italian Law of Filiation: A Family Law Case Study

Italian law of filiation: the legal rights of children born in and out of wedlock

De Tullio Law Firm provided legal expertise regarding the Italian law of filiation at the Supreme Court of Western Australia.

The parties involved in the case about paternity and inheritance rights emigrated to Australia from Italy in the 1960s. Before ruling on the case, the court needed to understand the Italian law of filiation.

Case Background

In this case study, although we have disguised names and circumstances, we outline the main aspects of the Italian law of filiation that The Supreme Court of Western Australia took into consideration when assessing whether or not Giovanna Rossi, the plaintiff, was a legitimate child of the late Giuseppe Rossi and was therefore entitled to claim a share of her father’s inheritance.

The plaintiff

The plaintiff, Giovanna, issued proceedings in the Supreme Court of Western Australia regarding inheritance of her father’s estate. Following his divorce from Giovanna’s mother, Mr. Rossi re-married and had other children.

Giovanna was born in 1950. Her father and mother were not married at the time. They did however get married a couple of years after Giovanna’s birth.

In Italy, at the time of Giovanna’s birth, it was illegal for fathers to recognise any children born out of wedlock. Giovanna’s birth certificate therefore gives her mother’s maiden name, Bianchi.

However, Giovanna’s birth certificate contains a note stipulating that Giovanna is the legitimate daughter of Mr. Giuseppe Rossi. The birth certificate annotation follows the marriage of Mr. Giuseppe Rossi and Ms. Sofia Bianchi in 1953.

The defendants

The defendants in this case are Giovanna’s half-siblings. They are the children from Mr. Giuseppe Rossi’s second marriage. The defendants dispute Giovanna’s legal rights as an heir and beneficiary to Mr. Rossi’s estate because Giovanna was an “illegitimate” child. They maintain that the subsequent marriage between Mr. Rossi and Ms. Bianchi did not automatically give Giovanna the status of a legitimate child.

What rights does the Italian law of filiation provide?

Firstly, the Italian law of filiation has abolished the old distinction between children born in and out of wedlock.

Constitutional law has driven important changes to legislation regarding filiation with the aim of guaranteeing equality. The consequence of this legislative process has been to stipulate a single status for all children.

Reform of Italian filiation law

Filiation law reform, Riforma della filiazione, modified the Italian Civil Code – in particular, Italian Law no. 219 of 10 December 2012.  This law states that illegitimate children – since reforms in 1975 to Italian family law, known as, “natural children” – must not be subject to any discrimination because of the circumstances of their birth.

All children are equal in the eyes of the Italian law

Both legitimate and natural children therefore have the same status: figlio. All children have equal rights and parents have a responsibility toward their offspring. A child has the right to receive care, education, assistance in case of need and a share of any inheritance.

In other words, the Italian Civil Code, as well as other Italian legislation referring to the relationships between parent and child, only permits the use of the word “child” (figlio/figlia). There is no longer any distinction such as, il/legitimate, natural or adopted.

The provision of a uniform status of filiation means that all children have the same rights to receive care, education, assistance in case of need and a share of any inheritance and parents are responsible for providing these rights. In addition, the express intention of Law 219 of 2012 extends parental responsibilities to parents’ relatives.

2012 filiation reforms are retroactive

The Filiation Reform (Law 201/2012) is applicable to all people, not only those born after a certain date. This means that the abolition of the distinction between legitimate and natural/illegitimate children is retroactive. In other words, it is applicable to parent-child relationships prior to the Law 219/2012 entering into force on 1st January 2013.

A major effect of the abolition of the distinction between natural children and legitimate children is that natural children have gained an equal right to succeed to their parents. They are entitled not only to inherit a share of their “natural” parents’ estate but also to inherit from other relatives of their parents.

How was Italian law different before reforms?

Prior to reforms, there was a huge difference between the status of legitimate and illegitimate children in Italy. Illegitimate children had none of the legal rights afforded to legitimate children.

When Giovanna was born in the 1950s, there were only two ways to legitimate children born out of wedlock and give them the status of figlio. Either the parents could marry after the birth or, the father could make a formal  statement to a notary, declaring that he was the father of the child.

Legittimato quale figlio

Giovanna’s birth certificate contains the phrase “legittimata quale figlia”. This means that following the marriage of her natural parents, Giovanna acquired the status of child. She went from the condition of being illegitimate to a condition where she was recognised as having the status of a legitimate child with all the accompanying rights of being a child.

This was in accordance with applicable Civil Code and legislation in force at that time. Also, as previously mentioned, following reforms to the Italian law of filiation, there is no longer any distinction in Italy between children born in or out of wedlock.

Case outcome

According to the Italian Law, Giovanna Rossi does have the status of a legitimate child of Mr. Giuseppe Rossi, both under current applicable Italian law, as well as under legislation applicable at the time of Mr. Rossi’s marriage to Ms. Bianchi.

The event of a marriage between her natural parents gave Giovanna the status of child and, legitimated her as a child of Giuseppe Rossi and Sofia Bianchi in accordance with legislation in force since February 1955.

The Italian Family Law reform of 2012 abolished any distinction between legitimate children and natural/illegitimate children.

The Supreme Court of Western Australia therefore judged that Giovanna was indeed the late Mr. Rossi’s legitimate child and, as such, was entitled to receive a portion of his estate as her inheritance.

Finally …

At De Tullio Law Firm we provide legal advice and support in all fields of Italian law. Our particular specialties are Italian and cross border property, inheritance and family matters. If we can be of assistance, please get in touch.

You may also be interested in Partition of Property among Family Members.
You may also like to watch our info videos on the subject of Italian inheritance law.

What is a Biotestamento (Living Will)?

A living will, biotestamento, allows a person to make decisions about medical treatment

Biotestamento legislation in Italy is in two parts.

The first, more general part, deals with giving informed consent on medical treatments. The second part of the law specifically provides for a number of DATs (disposizioni anticipate di trattamento).

What are biotestamento DATs?

DATs allow a person to indicate wishes in relation to medical treatments in the event s/he is no longer conscious due to an accident or illness.

Every adult over the age of 18 years old, of sound mind, who does not expect to be capable of self-determination in the future, may make use of DATs. By filling in the relevant paperwork, a person expresses his/her wishes relating to medical treatments. These include consent or refusal of artificial hydration and feeding.

DATs are legally binding on medical staff unless they are manifestly inappropriate or non-compliant with the patient’s current medical condition or new therapies have become available since the person signed DATs.

DATs must be in the form of a notarised deed or as a certified private instrument.

Informed consent

The law on Biotestamento protects a person’s right to life, health, dignity and self-determination. It stipulates that no medical treatment may start or continue without the patient’s freely given and informed consent. All patients have the right to know their health conditions. Furthermore, they must receive exhaustive, up to date and comprehensible information about the diagnosis, prognosis, benefits and risks of diagnostic tests and of prescribed medical treatments. In addition patients have a right to understand any alternative treatments available and the consequences connected with refusal of treatment.

Possible interruption of artificial feeding and hydration

Every adult, over the age of 18 years old, of mind, has the right to fully or partially refuse any treatment or to revoke consent for treatment at any time. Feeding and hydration are comparable to medical treatments. It is therefore possible to refuse them or request that they stop.

Refusal of treatment and conscientious objection by doctors

The patient has the right to refuse medical care. Doctors can however conscientiously object to this. Therefore, if a patient refuses medical care and a doctor deems this will cause death, a doctor is under no professional obligation to fulfil the patient’s wishes. The patient, however, may turn to another doctor working in the same hospital or healthcare facility.

Futile medical care and deep sedation

A doctor must endeavour to alleviate a patient’s suffering. Even if the patient has refused to grant or withdrawn his/her consent to medical care. Where there is a short life expectancy or imminent death prognosis, the doctor must, however, abstain from unreasonably persisting in dispensing medical care. In case of illnesses resistant to medical treatments, with the patient’s consent, the doctor may resort to continuous deep palliative sedation associated with pain therapy.

Psychological support

Should the patient decide to revoke or refuse medical care, the doctor must inform the patient of the consequences associated with this decision. The doctor must also inform the patient about any possible alternative treatments. In addition, medical staff should promote all actions to support the patient, including psychological support services.

Minors and disabled persons

In order that they can express their wishes, minors and disabled persons must receive all information in an appropriate manner. Informed consent on medical treatments for minors is contingent on consent or refusal by the parents or legal guardian. However, the patient’s wishes must also be considered.

Fiduciaries

A patient may also appoint someone to represent them in all relations with doctors and medical facilities.

Finally …

At De Tullio Law Firm, we have over 55 years of expertise with managing cross border succession and estate planning matters throughout Italy. In addition, our firm is also a full member of STEP, the world’s leading association for trust and estate practitioners.

If you need any advice regarding living wills or last wills, we are here to help. Please get in touch with us.

 

 

Representation Rights in Italian Succession

Replacing an heir to an Italian inheritance

Representation rights pertain to a descendant replacing an ascendant. This happens if the latter is unable or unwilling to accept an inheritance or legacy.

Representation rights depend on two factors. Firstly, the ascendant, who does not wish, or is unable, to succeed, must have a legal entitlement to the inheritance in question. Secondly, in the case of testamentary succession, where the testator has made no other provisions which prevail over rights of representation.

How do Italian representation rights work?

Representation takes place whenever someone with an entitlement to an inheritance is unable or unwilling to inherit. Unwilling, means the beneficiary does not accept the inheritance or renounces it. Unable, means that the beneficiary dies before a succession process or is unfit to inherit or has lost the right to accept.

Through representation, legitimate or natural descendants replace the beneficiary unwilling or unable to succeed. If, for example, a child dies before his/her father, the father’s other children, and the predeceased child’s children are entitled to inherit the deceased child’s part of the inheritance. These heirs therefore receive the quota which their ascendant would have received.

Representation takes place:

-In a direct line, known as lineal consanguinity. This is where legitimate, legitimised, adopted or natural children become co-heirs.

-In collateral relationships, known as collateral consanguinity. These would be descendants of the deceased’s brothers and sisters who become co-heirs.

When are representation rights not applicable?

Representation does not apply unless the person replaced in succession is a descendant. For example, a sister of the deceased can make a representation but, not her husband. Likewise, representation cannot occur if, in testamentary succession, the testator has already indicated in a Will what should happen in the case an entitled beneficiary is unwilling or unable to accept an inheritance.

Finally …

At De Tullio Law Firm, we have over 55 years of expertise with managing cross border succession and estate planning matters throughout Italy. We offer a full range of Italian inheritance law services. In addition, our firm is also a full member of STEP, the world’s leading association for trust and estate practitioners.

For additional information about Italian succession and inheritance, you may find our Italian Succession Guide useful.

If we can be of assistance, please get in touch at: info@detulliolawfirm.com

Leasehold or Emphyteusis in Italy: What You Should Know

Emphyteusis is a type of leasehold arrangement

The closest Common Law legal term to Emphyteusis is a leasehold.

The landlord retains the ownership of property. However, a tenant has the right to use it for a contractually agreed period of time. In this type of leasehold or Emphyteutical arrangement, the tenant must both maintain and improve the property.

Leasehold or Emphyteusis is a contractual arrangement which has its roots in Roman Law. It formed part of the feudal system and has connections to the agricultural economy. Farmers had the possibility to cultivate land thereby sustaining themselves. In return, farmers paid an annual ground rent or canon in money and or in kind.

Italian leasehold or Emphyteusis arrangements are applicable to all types of physical assets

Contractual arrangements exist between two parties. On the one hand, the Dominium Directum, the freehold owner the (dominus) or landlord of the property. And, on the other hand, the Dominium Utile – the tenant (emphyteuta) who has the right to use property on a leasehold basis.

Emphyteusis is applicable to both land and buildings, including villas and apartments.

For the duration of an Emphyteusis contract, where land is involved, the tenant has the right to alter the surface of the land. This includes ploughing up pastures to cultivate a crop or plant trees.

Where the arrangement concerns buildings, a tenant may alter these. However, alterations must not cause any deterioration of the building. Therefore, if the tenant wishes to build an extension or add to existing structures, the tenant may do so.

The contract between the ‘landlord’ and the ‘tenant’ must be in writing. Rent payments are recurring and the duty to pay rent only ceases if the estate is destroyed. Destruction may either be due to human causes  such as a fire or through natural events for example, an earthquake.

Duration and obligations of leasehold or Emphyteusis contracts

Emphyteusis can be in perpetuity or limited to a minimum of 20 years. In either case, entitlements are the same.

In other words, a tenant may sublet the property, receive compensation for improvements made and even retain the property until full payment of his credit is rightfully received. These things, as well as those previously mentioned, do not require the consent of the landlord.

If the Emphyteusis has a duration of 20 years, the tenant cannot contractually transfer rights to another party. The right of pre-emption does not apply to the tenant in the same way it does to farmers. This means that the tenant in a leasehold or Empyteutical contract arrangement does not have right of first refusal to purchase land.

The tenant has a very broad right to dispose of the property held under perpetual Emphyteusis. Thus a tenant may dispose of the emphyteutical property by means of a deed in compliance with Italian Civil Code. This can either be an act inter vivos, i.e. made during the tenant’s lifetime, or causa mortis, i.e. after death. In the event of death, disposal is by means of a will.

Redemption of leasehold or Emphyteusis contracts

A tenant can acquire full ownership of Emphyteutical property through the payment of a price corresponding to fifteen times the annual rent. A tenant can make use of this redemption right at any time.

This redemption right prevails as an equivalent right accorded to the landlord in case of breach of contract by the tenant, known as the “devolution” (devoluzione).

Redemption may be settled either out of court, by means of an agreement between the landlord and tenant. A notarised deed must reflect the settlement. Where the landlord and tenant cannot reach agreement, the dispute can be settled in court.

Check the title deeds of an Italian property before you buy

A tenant must increase the productivity, the usefulness or the value of the estate, rural or urban. This obligation lasts for the duration of the term of Emphyteusis and must be in writing. Annual rents to the landlord are payable annually.

The landlord has the right to request the end of the Emphyteusis due to a breach of contract by the tenant. The landlord must refund any improvements the tenant has made. Payments should be proportional to the increase of value of the estate when it returns to the landlord.

Finally …

Acquiring, redeeming or disposing of property subject to leasehold or Emphyteusis arrangements can present challenges. Other types of leasehold arrangements also exist in Italian law. It is advisable that you contact an Italian lawyer to ensure you understand all the implications of such arrangements.

If you are looking at a real estate investment in Italy, why not talk to us? De Tullio Law Firm can advise and guide you throughout your Italian property purchasing journey. We have over 55 years of experience working with clients on their Italian and cross border property, family and inheritance matters. We are here to help.  Get in touch with us.

For more comprehensive information about the Italian property purchasing process, you might like to read our guide. You may also like to watch our info videos about Italian property law.

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.

 

Brussels IV: Cross-Border Inheritance Law

What is cross-border inheritance?

Cross-border inheritance laws determine which country handles an inheritance (known in legal terms as succession) and, which country’s national law will govern the inheritance. Cross-border inheritance applies if you live in a country which is not your country of origin or if you own assets in more than one country. Likewise, if you are a beneficiary or executor of a family member who lived in a different country from their country of origin when they died. EU Regulation 650/2012, also known as Brussels IV, came in to effect on 17th August 2015.

Brussels IV has implications for all nationals who reside in a participating EU Member State or who have a connection to a participating EU Member State.

Prior to the introduction of Brussels IV, each EU jurisdiction applied its own rules to govern the devolution of individuals’ property.

In order to determine which country laws would apply to an estate, EU states considered various connecting factors. These included domicile, residence, nationality or habitual residence. In addition, in some EU states, applicable succession law depended whether the assets were immovable (property and land) or movable (bank accounts, vehicles, furniture, jewellery and so on).

The fact that each jurisdiction applied different connecting factors often led to costly, protracted and complex conflicts of laws.

Brussels IV simplifies cross-border inheritance matters

Since the 17th August 2015 however, participating EU States have harmonised succession rules. In an effort to simplify cross-border succession, the EU adopted a single, unified connecting factor – habitual residence.

Therefore, the law of the country where the individual was habitually resident at the time of death is the default position. This, regardless of the location of assets in the estate and, whether the assets are immovable or movable.

For example, if you are a British national but you are habitually resident in Italy, Brussels IV means that instead of your assets passing under the laws of England and Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland, Italian inheritance law will apply to your worldwide assets.

Furthermore, your estate will be subject to Italian forced heirship rules. Forced heirship rules are similar to UK Intestacy rules. However, forced heirship is applicable even if there is a will. The key point is that Italian forced heirship rules take precedence over a will.

In practice, this means that close family members inherit the deceased’s property regardless of the contents of the deceased’s will. This can often be in preference to the deceased’s spouse or partner. Sometimes, this creates conflicts within families who are unfamiliar with forced heirship cultures. Particularly  if the deceased had children from previous relationships. According to Italian forced heirship rules, these children must also inherit a share of their deceased parent’s estate.

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.

For more information about Italian succession and inheritance, you may find our Italian Succession Guide useful.

At De Tullio Law Firm, we have over 55 years of expertise 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.

Unclaimed Italian Property

What is unclaimed Italian property?

Between 1861 and 1985 over 29 million Italians emigrated to other countries. About 18 million Italians permanently settled abroad. Today several tens of millions people living abroad have Italian heritage. When Italian emigrants went abroad, they often left property and land in Italy. This is now unclaimed Italian property.

Many people think that the Italian State confiscated unclaimed property. This is a myth. The reality is that the property is still here in Italy and the original owners are still on the title deeds.

There are many thousands of unclaimed properties and parcels of land  throughout Italy. In many cases, the descendants of emigrants living outside Italy could still claim these properties.

Beware!

Over the years, descendants of Italian emigrants have contacted us for help and advice. They are trying to find their ancestors’ property in Italy. Sadly, in some cases, people have spent considerable time and substantial amounts of money before contacting us.

We have heard about people receiving letters from organisations asking for an upfront fee and promising help with locating and retrieving an unclaimed Italian property.

Needless to say, many people never hear anything once they have paid the fee. So, if you get a letter like this, be cautious. Look up the company and check credentials before you part with any money.

Seek qualified help with unclaimed Italian property

In the first instance, legitimate researchers will seek unclaimed Italian property through sources made available under freedom of information laws. For example, since 2014, the Italian Tax Authority has made it possible for the public to search online for land registry records and titles. You will need to register an account, then supply information such as:

– Name of presumed owner, even if deceased (maiden name, if female).

– Exact town of birth in Italy.

– Name of father of the presumed owner.

– Date of Birth (year) of the presumed owner (records only available post 1880).

Some people try to take a DIY approach. However interpreting search results can however make this difficult. In addition, land registry results may not always be accurate. They could, for example, be out of date or show the name of a previous owner.

If you know, or believe that your family has unclaimed property in Italy and you need help, make sure you engage the services of reputable and experienced professionals.

Finally …

For over 55 years, De Tullio Law Firm has been providing international clients with independent legal advice. We offer services in all the major fields of Italian law with particular expertise in real estate, residency, family law and inheritance matters. If you would like to discuss your situation, we are here to help. Please get in touch with us.

EU Succession Rules Harmonise Cross-Border Inheritance

In 2015, the EU introduced new succession rules to simplify cross-border inheritance matters

To benefit from the new EU succession rules, overseas nationals with assets in an EU Member State need to take action in a will.

According to The European Commission some 450,000 cross-border successions occur in the EU each year. These are estimated to be worth in excess of €120 billion. Effective from August 17th 2015, to solve confusion and prevent disputes, the EU introduced new EU succession rules. These rules allow individuals across participating EU member states to choose which country jurisdiction to apply to the devolution of their estate.

Forced heirship

Many countries in the EU, including Italy, have laws governing ‘forced heirship’. Forced heirship rules are similar to UK Intestacy rules. However, forced heirship is applicable even if there is a will. The key point is that Italian forced heirship rules take precedence over a will.

In practice, this means that close family members inherit the deceased’s property regardless of the contents of the deceased’s will. This can often be in preference to the deceased’s spouse or partner. Sometimes, this creates conflicts within families who are unfamiliar with forced heirship cultures. Particularly  if the deceased had children from previous relationships. According to Italian forced heirship rules, these children must also inherit a share of their deceased parent’s estate.

EU Regulation 650/2012 is also known as Brussels IV

The UK did not opt into Brussels IV when it was still a member of the EU. However, UK nationals with assets in EU countries that adopted the changes, which is all of them except for Ireland and Denmark, can take advantage of Brussels IV.

Brussels IV allows any overseas national who owns property in a participating EU member state to choose either the law of the country of their habitual residence, or the law of their nationality to govern succession of their EU estate. Or, if they have multiple nationalities, they can choose one of their nationalities to govern succession.

Electing a country law provides a way to circumvent forced heirship laws.

EU succession rules allow you to elect a country law in your will

If for example you are a UK national habitually resident in England with a holiday home in Italy. You can now update your English will with a choice of law codicil. This would cover the Italian property with an election for the inheritance laws of England and Wales to apply to it. It means you don’t need a separate Italian will for the Italian  holiday home.

That said, it is highly advisable to have either a bilingual Italian will or an official Italian translation of your English will.  Preferably, the translated version would be in the hands of a solicitor or notary. This will make things easier, less time-consuming and costly in the long run for the executor of your estate.

Before taking action, it’s important to understand all the implications of the EU succession rules

Before making any changes to your will, it is important to understand Brussels IV and all its implications. For example, Brussels IV does not impact inheritance tax.

As previously mentioned, Brussels IV is applicable to all foreign property owners. However, if you are habitually resident in Italy it is essential that you make or update your will in Italian. In your Italian will, you should clearly state which country’s law you wish to elect. Otherwise, because you are resident in Italy, the laws of Italy will automatically apply when dealing with succession. Again, it is important to understand the Brussels IV regulation and its impact.

Interestingly, Brussels IV does not restrict the choice of law to EU nationals. For example, a US national with property in a participating EU Member State could elect for US law to apply to the succession of their property; an Australian could nominate Australian law; a Canadian, Canadian law, and so on.

Finally …

As ever, the key is in the planning. If you want freedom of choice, you have it. Just don’t leave it until it’s too late!

Cross-border inheritance law is a complex matter. We recommend you seek independent legal advice regarding your personal situation. For more information about Italian succession and inheritance, you may find our Italian Succession Guide useful.

At De Tullio Law Firm, we have over 55 years of expertise 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 you need advice, help or have any questions on cross-border inheritance matters, please get in touch.