The legal implications of coronavirus in Italy – update

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Italy was one of the first European countries to be affected by coronavirus, and one of the first countries to impose severe lockdown restrictions on its citizens – a situation from which it is now cautiously remerging.

Individuals are now allowed to leave their homes, shops are open again and it is possible to return to work (with stringent safety measures in place). However, it remains forbidden to move between regions, unless there is justifiable reason to do so, such as for work or health.

This means that estate agents, lawyers and any other professionals may travel in order to progress matters on behalf of their clients. However, there are still restrictions in place which may continue to delay matters, and we will explore each potential legal situation here and how your case may be affected.

Whilst our advice is based on current legislation and our experience, the situation continues to evolve and things may change significantly over the coming weeks and months. We are constantly monitoring developments and the impact on legislation in Italy, liaising with our colleagues and other professionals in the country, in order to provide the most up to date assistance.

House purchases and sales

As reported from the outset of the Italian lockdown, it was still possible for house sales to go ahead, despite the very strict governmental measures imposed. Sales were completed using Powers of Attorney and exchange of offers conducted via email.

As public officials, Notaries were under the obligation to work throughout, although it is understandable that some chose not to, and those who did worked with reduced hours.

This should now have changed, with all Notaries now having opened their offices to the public and are proceeding with all deeds, as per usual, with all the necessary precautions in place.

Surveyors are now able to travel to visit properties, enabling them to provide their report for potential buyers. Town Halls and Land Registries are also open, allowing professionals to proceed with  rectifying any issues regarding land registry and obtaining any documents, such as copy planning permissions, which are required for the sale.

An issue may arise where one or all of the parties live in a different region from where the Notary’s office is located, as travel between regions is still not allowed (although travel between different cities in the same region can go ahead). If completion is urgent, for example, because the deadline set in the preliminary contract is imminent, then the Deed of Sale can be signed by someone local to the Notary and authorised by way of Power of Attorney.

Estate agents can now visit properties, together with interested buyers. This will allow the property market, whilst never having stopped completely during these past two months, to get back on track.

Estate Administration

The Declaration of Succession, i.e. the Tax Declaration that describes the assets of the deceased, its values and the identity of beneficiaries/legatees, must be lodged with the Agenzia delle Entrate (the Italian Tax Agency) within one year of the death of the individual. The deadline for submitting these Declarations, for all one year deadlines falling within this period has been postponed to 30 June 2020 and inheritance taxes falling due in this period, is 31 May 2020.

Notaries are beginning to return to normality now and are willing to prepare and sign any Deeds necessary for the succession, such as the Deed of Publication of the deceased’s Will.

There may still be some issues and delays with regard to the documents that must be attached to the Italian Declaration of Succession, as the UK is still in lockdown. It may therefore be difficult to source a UK Notary Public who will witness a Power of Attorney and there are delays with obtaining death and other certificates, as well as obtaining Apostilles on documents. That said, we work with various  agencies who have successfully assisted us in legalising documents at the FCO.

Banks will soon be open as usual but will be suffering a backlog of work which will cause substantial delays to all succession matters where accounts are held within the deceased’s Italian estate.

Wills

The ability to execute a Will to cover your Italian assets continues to remain unaffected by the current situation.

If you live in Italy and wish for a Notary to prepare your Will, they can assist you. Alternatively, you can write a holographic Will at home. Finally, you can execute an English-style Will to cover your Italian assets only, or to include your Italian assets in an English Will.

However, should you choose to proceed, it’s vital to obtain legal advice with regard to your Italian assets so that your intended beneficiaries will be left with your assets.

Court proceedings in Italy

All Courts and all civil hearings, unless they are of an urgent nature (such as for cases regarding children), were adjourned by the Decreto Cura Italia to the 11 May. However, all individual Courts were given the option to delay opening their doors until 30 June 2020. Most Courts have taken this option, which means that there will be further adjournments for cases until later this year or even into next year, as there will be a substantial backlog of cases to manage.

It may be possible for some hearings to be heard via video-conferencing. However, this remains at the Judge’s discretion.

Citizenship Applications

If the Citizenship Application form is ready, including all the documents to be attached, then the application can be lodged online as per usual. The Consulate in London remains closed to the public and has currently frozen all appointments, so there will be delays in receiving a “K” number and a date for a meeting.

There are delays in obtaining documents, such as birth certificates, in both the UK and in Italy, as well as legalisation of the same. It will continue to prove difficult to obtain criminal certificates in most countries in the world, given the lockdown measures imposed throughout and various administrative authorities being closed. On a final note, the Italian language exams which are necessary for citizenship applications made on the basis of marriage or residency will be suspended for the foreseeable future. Currently, we are not aware of any plans for these to be held online.