What are the legal rights of unmarried couples (“De Facto Partners”) in Italy?

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Unmarried couples do not enjoy the same rights to each other’s assets in Italy as married couples and, until 2016, they did not have any rights at all.

If you are in a relationship but are not married, you do not currently have the right to inherit your partner’s assets when they die, even if you have been with your partner for many years and are cohabiting. This means that if your partner dies without leaving a Will, their assets will pass to their closest relatives, but you will not receive anything.

It’s important to note that this will be the case even if you own property together; your partner’s share of the property will not automatically pass to you, the surviving owner, but will fall into their estate for inheritance purposes and pass to their beneficiaries.

Further, as a cohabiting partner in Italy, you do not have the rights of forced heirship on your partner’s estate which other relatives of the deceased, such as a spouse or child, will be able to claim.

You and your partner can, of course, choose to provide for each other in your Wills and this is vital if you do not wish for the other to be left with nothing (being careful not to impact on other relatives’ rights as per the Italian forced heirship laws).

When inheriting, there will also be a substantial inheritance tax difference for a cohabiting partner when compared with the situation for a spouse. An unmarried partner will be subject to the maximum inheritance tax that can be charged in Italy, at 8% of the total value inherited.  On the other hand, a spouse will not be subject to any inheritance tax at all, up to an inherited value of €1 million.

If a cohabiting couple break up, they will not be able to ask for financial support from each other, no matter how long they have been together. However, recent case law has confirmed that an ex-cohabiting partner does have the right to ask for damages caused by a “violation of family obligations”  (for example, in the case where a man leaves his long term, cohabiting partner who was financially dependent on him, to start a relationship with another woman, leaving his ex in a precarious economic condition).

The entitlement to ask for maintenance for dependent children is not affected by whether the parents were married or not, and the rights remain the same.

Rights gained under the 2016 “Cirinnà Law”

Unmarried couples gained more legal rights with the introduction of Law n. 76/2016 of 20 May 2016, the so-called “Cirinnà Law”.

Unmarried couples can now enter into a “contract” to formalise their relationship, thereby being recognised by law as a “De Facto Partners” (“Coppia di Fatto”).

The couple, who can be heterosexual or same sex, must be living together in a stable relationship, must be over 18 and must not be related (which includes being married or in a Civil Partnership). Their relationship can be registered at their local Comune, by way of a simple declaration, following which they will enjoy several legal rights that they would not otherwise have had.

These rights include:

  • to access the partner’s medical records and make certain medical decisions should they be taken ill;
  • to take on a residential lease in the previous partner’s name;
  • to receive any damages due if the partner died in an accident caused by a third party;
  • to visit your partner if they are in jail.

A major new entitlement is the right to remain in the shared home following the death of one of the partners. Prior to the Cirinnà Law, a cohabiting partner did not have these rights automatically. However, they can now stay in the property between 2-5 years, depending on the length of their relationship and whether they have any children.

By comparison, upon the death of a spouse, the survivor is entitled to remain in their family home for the rest of their life.

With regard to rights relating to finances, the couple can decide to enter into a contract by which they agree on issues regarding their finances and any properties they own. The De Facto Partners can even choose the regime applicable to their assets, such as the “Comunion of Assets” regime, whereby the other will automatically own 50% of any immoveable property that their partner purchases following the execution of the financial contract between them.  It can include any maintenance agreements and contribution to the household finances.

This contract must be in writing and signed before a Notary or a Lawyer in Italy, who will then register this document at the couple’s Town Hall. The applicable law to this contract will be the law of their common nationality; if they have different nationalities, the applicable law will be that of the country where they cohabit for most of the time.

The contract can be revoked, in writing, at any time, and will automatically be revoked upon the death of one of the partners, or by them entering into a Civil Partnership or marriage with each other or someone else.

Even if you enter into a financial contract as above, or register your partnership as a De Facto Partnership, your partner will still not have any legal rights to inherit any of your assets, as the Cirinnà Law does not provide any new legislation in this regard. This is all the more reason to obtain legal advice related to your estate planning for any assets you hold in Italy and to make sure you have a Will which adequately provides for your partner, if you wish for them to inherit.