What to do When Inheriting Property in Italy!
Expats living la dolce vita may happen upon distant relatives in Italy or make new friends who want to leave them property when they die. Hey, it could happen. So, what do you do when you inherit an apartment in Rome or a villa on the Amalfi Coast? Transferring title is not as easy as you may think and it's essential to be aware of international law and have a cross border estate plan.
In the United States, people may leave or not leave their property to whomever they choose under the terms of their will. (Yet, you can't disinherit your spouse, but that’s fodder for another discussion.) That’s not the same in Italy.
In Italy, spouses, children and sometimes ascendants such as parents, aunts and uncles, inherit automatically under the law of “forced heirship.” They can even “claw back” gifts to get their rightful share returned. It’s an ancient premise that basically keeps real property in the same family for generations no matter what someone declares in their will. So, if Mamma, Nonno or Zio Vincenzo dies and leaves you property 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 in the states, unless you act pro se or on your own behalf. In Italy, the process is called succession and is generally not handled by attorneys. That’s where problems can occur if the heirs are in different countries and may not be Italian citizens.
US-based attorneys working with an Italian firm specializing in cross border estate planning can help navigate the complex minefield of notaios who rule the property transfer process in il bel paese. You’ll 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 outright in Italy, often by local processors who have no experience with international estate 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 laws and protocols.
Whether it's money, art or property at stake in Italy, it's best to retain attorneys on both sides of the Atlantic rather than lose your rightful inheritance in Italy. There’s a lot more to it and I hope to meet many of you this fall in an AICR presentation with my colleague, Avv. Nick Metta, from Studio Legale Metta in Rome.
Lisa Fantino, is a US-based attorney with a cross border practice, admitted in New York and Connecticut. As traveler-in-chief, Lisa's company, Wanderlust Women Travel, specializes in bespoke honeymoons in Italy and she is the author of the best-selling travel memoir, "Amalfi Blue: lost & found in the south of Italy."