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Inheriting an Italian estate 

If you are dealing with the inheritance of Italian assets, it can be hard to know where to start, especially if you are not an Italian citizen yourself. You will probably have a number of questions about how to deal with the Italian estate such as: How do you obtain Italian probate? What inheritance laws apply to the Italian estate? Is there inheritance tax to pay in Italy? And many more!

The answers may vary depend on the individual situation: where the deceased was domiciled, whether they were resident in Italy; whether there is a valid will; what the value of the estate is, for instance.

In order to deal with the Italian estate, the executors or beneficiaries will need to obtain the Italian equivalent of a Grant of Probate. An Italian Grant of Probate is called Dichiarazione di Successione also known as a Statement of Succession, Declaration of Succession or Italian Certificate of Inheritance.

Unless you are fluent in Italian and familiar with the probate process in Italy, you will need to instruct an Italian inheritance and probate lawyer to  guide you through the Italian inheritance process. Worldwide Lawyers can assist you in dealing with inheritance of assets in Italy. Please feel free to contact us for a no-obligation quote.

We have, however, set out some of the main steps to successfully administering an Italian estate:

Obtain the death certificate

In order to obtain probate in Italy a copy of the death certificate is an essential requirement, so you should get a copy of the death certificate as soon as possible, to avoid delaying the process.

If the deceased died in Italy in order to obtain the death certificate, you will need to provide copies of the deceased’s (and applicant’s) personal ID and tax code. The death certificate will be issued by the Registry of Vital Records (Ufficio Anagrafe e Stato Civile) in the municipality where the deceased passed away. The death certificate will need to be translated and notarised to obtain a Grant of Probate, or equivalent, in the deceased’s home country (see more on obtaining the Grant of Probate below).

If the deceased died in another country (ie not in Italy), in order to deal with the assets in Italy your Italian lawyer will require the original death certificate and original Grant of Probate (or equivalent), both of which must have the Apostille of The Hague affixed at the Foreign & Commonwealth office. A translation will also be required.

Establish whether the deceased had a valid will and which laws apply to the estate

It is important to ascertain whether the deceased has a valid will and in which country the will was written, as this will affect the process of obtaining probate. You can find out from the General Will Registry Bureau (Registro Generale dei Testamenti), based in Rome, whether the deceased had an Italian will or not. If the deceased had other assets worldwide you should also check whether they had a will in the other countries where their assets are based. Some countries have a central wills registry but many, like the UK, do not.

You will probably find that one of the following scenarios applies:

  • The deceased has Italian assets and they have a will based in their home country (not Italy)
  • The deceased has Italian assets and there is only an Italian will
  • The deceased has Italian assets and there is both an Italian will and another will(s) to cover assets in the respective country/countries
  • The deceased has Italian assets and no will

If the deceased only had a will in their home country it is usually necessary to apply for the Grant of Probate (or equivalent) in that country first. Once the Grant of Probate from the deceased’s home country is obtained and the relevant inheritance taxes are settled (if there are any owed) you can then deal with the assets in Italy.

It is common for people who own Italian assets to make a separate Italian will, in order to make it easier for their executors and beneficiaries to deal with the inheritance of the Italian estate and other worldwide assets. If this is the case, the Italian will ordinarily cover just the Italian assets, which means that the probate process can be dealt with simultaneously in each country.

It also simplifies the process when an Italian lawyer is dealing with Italian assets and a UK lawyer, for instance, is handling the UK assets as it leaves less room for conflict between different national laws. If there is any ambiguity or conflict between the beneficiaries, you should seek specialist advice.

Once it has been ascertained which will applies to the succession of the Italian estate, your Italian lawyer can then deal with the Italian estate accordingly as per the Italian will and other will(s). In order to act on behalf of the heirs to the estate, your lawyer in Italy will usually require all the beneficiaries to sign a power of attorney – a document that can be signed before a notary – giving them the authority them to act on their behalf.

Which laws will apply to the succession of the Italian estate?

The default position in Italy is that the applicable law will be the law of the country where the deceased was ‘habitually resident’ i.e. had their main home. This position can be altered if the deceased made an election in their will that the laws of their country of their nationality should apply instead.

Italian inheritance law is subject to forced heirship which means that, if Italian law is the applicable law, certain family members are entitled to inherit particular portions of the deceased’s estate – regardless of what their will says!

If the deceased dies intestate (without leaving a will) the Grant of Letters of Administration (or equivalent) will be required and the Italian succession will be dealt with in accordance with the intestacy rules of the country where the deceased was habitually resident.

Gather all relevant documentation 

The following documentation may be required to obtain the Statement of Succession or Dichiarazione di Successione, depending on your personal circumstances:

  • Title deeds of any properties (buildings and land) owned by the deceased
  • Family certificate (or equivalent)
  • Affidavit of foreign law (this may be required to prove the validity of the will)

As part of the probate process of you will also need to provide a detailed list of the all of the assets the deceased owned – including other properties, bank accounts, shares, pensions etc. – and their values, including the Italian estate and any other assets owned in other countries.

Submit the Dichiarazione di Successione 

The final step in the inheritance process in Italy, in order for the Italian assets to be released to the beneficiaries is to obtain Italian Grant of Probate, the Dichiarazione di Successione. The Dichiarazione di Successione is a form, which can be obtained from the Italian Ministry of Finance.

This Statement of Succession must be completed and submitted to the appropriate Italian Tax authority (Agenzia delle Entrate) listing all of the deceased’s worldwide assets, within one year of the date of death, regardless of whether any inheritance tax is owed.

Once any inheritance taxes owed have been settled the Italian assets can then be released to the beneficiaries.

Accepting or renouncing inheritance in Italy

Under Italian inheritance law, the beneficiaries step into the place of the deceased, which means not only are they entitled to their share of the Italian assets but they are also liable for any debts. Therefore, if the debts exceed the value of the assets, the heirs may choose to waive their inheritance. If a beneficiary chooses to disclaim their Italian inheritance, they must officially renounce their claim in front of a Notary Public.

The Italian inheritance and succession system is notoriously complex, so if you’re dealing with the inheritance of Italian assets is strongly advisable that you seek specialist legal advice, especially if it is a cross-border estate. Contact Worldwide Lawyers for FREE no obligation advice or contact details for a recommended Italian lawyer on 01244 470339 or email info@worldwidelawyers.co.uk.