Inheriting From an Italian Relative? What Should You Know?

Posted on: 13 March 2017

If you've recently received word that your Italy-domiciled parent, grandparent, or other relative has passed away, you may be busy making arrangements to attend the funeral or memorial service. Learning that you're set to inherit a portion of your deceased relative's estate is generally good news -- but receiving Italian inheritances in particular can obligate you in some ways you may not expect. Read on to learn more about Italian inheritance law and how the estate disposition process may be much different from others you've observed on U.S. soil. 

What should you know when inheriting in the U.S. pursuant to an Italian will? 

Italian testamentary law adopts heavily from the ancient Roman traditions and beliefs, including a presumption that close family members could (and should) not be disinherited without a very good reason, if at all. In contrast, most U.S. states will permit a testator to exclude adult children, grandchildren, and other dependents from a will without any reason given, although most states do provide protections to spouses. 

If property located outside of Italy is disposed through an Italian will, the laws of the country in which this property is located will take precedence when it comes to dividing this property among heirs. And because Italian testamentary law creates "forced heirs," preventing you from disclaiming an inheritance if you're one of a few select close family members (like children or grandchildren), you may find yourself financially and physically responsible for a foreign rental property very quickly after your relative's death.  

What steps will you need to take to preserve your inheritance rights? 

Once you've received notice that you're likely to inherit under your Italian relative's will, you may want to contact an attorney, especially if you suspect the estate has substantial assets or debts. Seeking legal counsel early in the process can help you avoid potential liability for foreign properties or debts you may not be able to disclaim, and can give you a better opportunity to review your options prior to taking any action. 

You may also want to consult with your co-heirs (if any) to see their thoughts on liquidating certain assets. Unless you have an interest in foreign travel or the resources to maintain a rental property from an ocean away, it may be in your best interests to sell any Italian homes or rentals and divide the proceeds rather than keep the property to generate income. 

For more information about Italian inheritance law and for guidance in your situation, talk to a representative at Bureasy.