Navigating the waters of Italian succession is not easy for Americans living in the U.S. So, what should you do you do when your Italian inheritance includes an apartment in Rome or a villa on the Amalfi Coast? (Hey, it could happen!)
In the United States, people may leave or not leave their property to whomever they choose under the terms of their will, except that you cannot disinherit your spouse, but 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. 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 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 it’s only handled by attorneys admitted to practice in the given state, 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.
US-based attorneys working with an Italian firm specializing in cross-border inheritances 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 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 a state’s Secretary of State. That process 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’re unfamiliar with international laws and protocols.
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 can’t represent you in Italy unless they’re also admitted to the bar in Italy. 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 Italian inheritance.