Cross Border Estate Planning in Italy

I’ve previously discussed what to do with your Italian inheritance but let’s look at cross border estate planning when you are now the individual who owns property or a bank account in Italy.  What do you do when it comes to drafting your will and making sure your heirs get their assets, both in the United States and Italy, as easily and quickly as possible?

Italian InheritanceIn my years of international practice between the United States and Italy, there is one thing I have learned…Italy does not like the way we draft documents in the US.  Despite international treaties which afford apostilled, US-drafted documents recognition in Italy, they do things a bit differently across the Atlantic.

It is essential to work with an estate attorney who can assist you with drafting a will that can be used in both countries.  Key clauses would allow a will which is drafted and probated in New York, for example, to also be used in the succession process in Italy.

Working with a foreign legal consultant from Italy, we can include the exact phrases necessary to pass muster with Italian law; collate the requisite supporting documentation and obtain the apostilles to initiate probate in New York and succession in Italy with little fuss for most estates.

Believe it or not, as fussy as they are with their documents in Italy, it is not necessary for an attorney to undertake succession (probate) in Italy.  That fosters an environment of many individuals and online companies offering to undertake succession with very little knowledge or experience in international law.  It is much better to plan your estate carefully in the United States, with attorneys well-versed in the process in Italy and in the U.S., with the goal of also making the estate process much easier for your heirs in Italy.

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.

Estate Planning for the Middle Class

Why do middle income earners find it so hard to talk about money?  Poor people will tell you they have none.  Wealthy people will tell you their net worth to the closest million or billion.  Yet, ask a middle income earner to sit down and take stock of his or her assets and the room goes silent.  It’s like asking many to give up state secrets under the threat of torture rather than execute an estate plan.

The reality is that we’re all going to die and whether it is 10 days away or 10 years away, you should know what you own down to your last ten cents.  Most estate attorneys require Westchester Estate Attorneyan inventory of your assets to better guide and assist you in planning ahead.  There is no cookie-cutter approach to drafting a will, trust or any other estate document so don’t call a law firm to request a “simple will.”  By working with a competent attorney to map out a custom estate plan, you will be informed and well-situated to deal with the future.

In gearing up for the asset inventory, here are a few tips to help ease the process:

1.  Check your bank/brokerage accounts on a weekly basis.  Not only is this good for safety in this climate of identity theft, but it gives you a good estimate of the value of your cash/securities.

2.  Check the value of your real property/co-op apartment on a periodic basis.  Just because you paid $150,000 for your first apartment three short years ago does not mean that it is still worth that much.  In fact, it might be worth less.  Websites like Trulia and Zillow will display recent market sales in your area simply by typing in your street address.

3.  Valuable collections should be appraised periodically.  Even if you don’t insure the artwork, coin collection, jewelry or other valuables, a periodic appraisal is worth the cost to place a value on your assets.  Maybe it’s time to cash in on a hot market or realize your cherished but valueless LP collection is sadly taking up dusty storage space now.

4.  Money is just a thing.  It comes, it goes.  We have it, we don’t.  Yet, it’s the one thing many of us feel so uneasy about, the one thing which can make life easy or hard.

Without a will, the courts will decide who gets your estate no matter what it’s worth,  So your Last Will and Testament should be the first and not the last thing you do when planning your future.