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Is Your Last Will the Way?
Your last wishes may be overridden by Italian law
You will be shocked to learn that Italian law may not agree with your desires and might even impose the distribution of your Italian assets in a different manner than you had intended - regardless of your citizenship or residency. Only those who have never married and are childless may distribute their Italian assets however and to whomever they choose. In short, when an immediate family members exist, assets in equal shares always go to the immediate family (i legittmari). Those outside of Italy writing wills thinking they can do as they please with their assets in Italy frequently are surprised and angered when their desires are overturned.
Let me explain. Suppose your last will and testament, written in the U.S., expresses the following: to my oldest son living in New York, I leave the house in Naples and the Alfa Romeo; to my wife, I leave the summer home in Sicily along with its 50 acres of olive groves; and to my daughter, who never visited me except when she wanted money, I leave my butterfly collection.
The daughter, of course, who rarely came around would suddenly appear to present a formal protest in which she demands an equal share. Should the surviving spouse or son refuse to alter the distribution of the father’s will, the daughter could then attempt to petition the courts for a la Reintegrazione della Legittima. This means simply that the daughter's legal representative could ask the courts to distribute the estate in proportions provided by Italian law. If a compromise cannot be reached by all parties, Italian courts tend to put the heirs on an equal footing.
According to Italian law, there are minimum percentages that must go to the immediate family, and unless the daughter, in this example, agrees to accept less, then the minimums must be adhered to. In the above example this means: 25% to the surviving spouse, 50% to be divided among the children (this percentage does not change, no mantter how many children). The remaining 25% may be freely willed. (We will talk more about this last 25% called la Disponibile in a future article.)
Here are the hypothetical breakdowns of the fathers' last wishes and how they would be executed according to Italian Law:
Distribution of estate according to italian law:
Thus the prodigal daughter would see her share of the estate raise from $4,000 to $376,000. This is certainly not what the father had in mind.
Moral of the story: if you really intend to treat family members unequally relative to the will, Italian law may override its intent.
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