What to do with your Italian inheritance

So you’ve inherited a villa or other property in Italy, now what? Transferring title is not as easy as you may think.

In the United States, people may leave or not leave their property to whomever they choose under the terms of their will. In most cases and states you can’t disinherit your spouse but you have no obligation to pass along your fortune to anyone else, including your kids. That’s not the same in Italy.

Italian InheritanceIn Italy, spouses and children inherit by law no matter what a testator declares in a will. So, if Mamma, Nonno or Zio Vincenzo dies and leaves you property on the Amalfi Coast or a villa in Tuscany, the first thing you should do is seek legal counsel at home and in Italy to make sure that your rights will be protected.

In the United States, the process of administering a will through court is called probate and is only handled by attorneys admitted to practice unless you act pro se or on your own behalf. In Italy, the process is called succession and is generally not handled by attorneys and that’s where problems can occur if the heirs are in different countries and may not be Italian citizens.

New York attorneys versed in a multi-national practice can assist you and work with local counsel in Italy or foreign legal consultants here in the US but they cannot represent you in Italy unless they are also admitted to the bar in Italy. In all cases, you will need to provide documents to further the succession in Italy including affidavits, death certificates, powers of attorney, among others. That sounds easy enough but unless the American documents are drafted appropriately, they will be rejected in Italy, often by local processors who have no experience with international law.

Further, drafting correctly is only half of the process. Under the Hague Convention, in order for the American documents to be recognized by a court in Italy, they must be notarized and Apostilled by the US State Department, through a local Embassy, or with an individual Secretary of State and their deputies. That is supposed to provide assurance to foreign authorities that the documents may be relied on but time and again I have seen them rejected. The problem is that in Italy, non-attorneys process succession and more often than not, they are unfamiliar with international protocols.

Whether it is money, art or property at stake in Italy, it is best to retain an estate attorney on both sides of the Atlantic rather than lose your rightful inheritance in Italy.

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