Distributing an Italian estate without a Will – who gets what?

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If an individual dies without leaving a valid Will which covers his or her Italian assets, the Italian Civil Code makes clear how the estate should be distributed. This and the quota received by each beneficiary, will depend on the relationship that each individual concerned had with the deceased.

If the deceased was survived by a spouse and children, the estate will devolve to them entirely in specific quotas: if there is only one surviving child, the estate will be split equally between the spouse and said child.  If there are several children, then the spouse will be entitled to one-third of the estate, with the remaining two-thirds to be distributed equally between the children.

If there is no spouse, then the child/children of the deceased will inherit the entire estate.  No other relative will have any claim to these assets.

If there are no children living at the time of death, but the deceased is survived by a spouse and other close relatives, the estate will be distributed as follows:

  • If the deceased had one or two parents still alive at the date of death, but no siblings, then two-thirds of the estate will devolve to the spouse, with the remaining third to be distributed to the surviving parent/s;
  • If the deceased had parents and one or two siblings still living at the date of death, the spouse will be entitled to two-thirds of the estate, the parents will be entitled to one-quarter, with the remaining estate being distributed equally between the surviving siblings;
  • If there are no living parents at the date of death, but there are one or more siblings, then the spouse will be entitled to two-thirds of the estate and the siblings will be entitled to the remaining third of the estate, in equal shares.

If there are no other close relatives (such as parents, grandparents or siblings), the spouse will be entitled to the entire estate. Other than the rights to the estate described above, in accordance with Italian law, the spouse will also retain the life-long right to live in the home owned by the deceased (either solely or jointly with the spouse), provided that this was the spouse’s main place of residence.

Importantly, if a couple has not legally divorced then the spouse will still retain rights to the estate. This includes any legal separation order, which again will not prevent the spouse from claiming against the estate. Only a divorce order will effectively eradicate these rights.

Parents and siblings will also have first rights to the estate if there are no children or spouse living at the date of death.

Other relatives (such as nephews and nieces) will also have a right to the deceased’s estate, but only if the deceased left no close relatives, such as a spouse, children, parents, grandparents or siblings. Again, their rights will depend on how they are related to the deceased and are dictated by the relevant articles contained in the Italian Civil Code. In the absence of any relatives, then all the deceased’s assets will devolve to the Italian State.

Once the beneficiaries of the Italian estate have been established, a Declaration of Succession must be lodged which will describe the nature of the assets and identity of the beneficiaries due to inherit these assets, in accordance with the Italian Civil Code.