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.

Recalling Al DelBello

Westchester lost one of its great sons today.  Former County Executive and Lt. Governor Al DelBello has died at 80 years young.

Al DelBello

Al DelBello/courtesy Patch.com

We came up together, so to speak. Mr. DelBello’s political career and my journalism career were on parallele timelines. I was a young cub reporter spending lonely weekend nights looking for news.  Al always had something for me.  I would call him at home nearly every Sunday night in the early 80s.  If Dee, his lovely wife, answered, she would kindly call him to the phone and we would create news on the spot.  He never brushed me off.  He never thought this local kid reporter was too inexperienced to bother with.  No, he took his time and always gave me a tidbit to leave for the news desk come Monday morning.  I miss those calls.  They don’t make politicians like Al DelBello any longer.  Honest, caring, every man and woman’s leader.

I hadn’t seen him in about two years.  The last time was at one of Dee’s business breakfasts. They always stood by and supported each other. They don’t make love like that any longer either.

Rest in peace Al DelBello. You will be missed.

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.