Italian Wills & Succession Lawyers

If you would like to make an Italian will or are seeking guidance on the benefits of creating one, the following information will assit.

Why do I need an Italian will - could I just make an English will instead?

If you own fixed assets, property or land, in Italy and if you live permanently in Italy, then it is advisable to make an Italian will to ensure that things will run smoothly for your beneficiaries after you have died.

Leaving your executors or beneficiaries to manage your estate via a will drafted only under the law of England & Wales could result in considerable difficulties arising. A will that is drafted under foreign law and not Italian law has to be authenticated by an Italian Notary Public before probate can be undertaken. All supporting documentation not drafted in Italian must be translated into Italian by an official translater, the cost of which could exceed the cost of drafting an Italian will, so failing to make an Italian will may be a false economy.

If separate wills are created independently in each country where assets are owned this will limit the prospect of complications and significantly shorten the time taken to finalise the probate.

It is important to ensure that the wills do not revoke each other, working alongside each other to achieve your wishes with regard to your estate. If you decide to instruct two separate law firms to draft each will it is essential to make both your lawyers aware of the terms of both of your wills.

An Italian will also have the effect of reducing the potential for conflict between beneficiaries and also could lead to reduced inheritance tax. An Italian will assists the Italian authorities to understand your wishes concerning your estate.

What are the differences between wills under English law and Italian law?

In the UK, you have the freedom to choose whoever you wish to inherit your estate. This is known as ‘testamentary freedom’, and means that as long as you clearly stipulate in your will the details of the beneficiaries that you wish to inherit your estate and the proportions they are to receive, you are not constrained by laws of succession in England & Wales.

In Italy however, there is a system of ‘forced heirship’. Under Italian inheritance law, there is no right to freely determine the distribution of your assets, because Italian law provides that certain family members are legally entitled to inherit a designated proportion of their relative's estate.

An EU law passed in August 2015 does however allow foreigners to rely on their national law, providing you are a citizen of an EU member state. 

What would happen if I died without a will (intestate) in Italy?

If you are permanently living in Italy and you die without having made a will that incorporates your assets in Italy, the rules of intestate Italian succession will apply. Meaning that your relatives will inherit a share of any fixed assets (i.e. property and land) in accordance with Italian law. Therefore, depending on how closely related they are to you, they will receive the designated proportion of your estate that is enshrined in Italian law.

The law of ‘scission’ will apply to non-fixed assets, which means that the law relating to intestate inheritance law in the deceased’s country of birth applies when there is no will.

The Italian lines of Italian succession that apply to intestate cases are as follows:

  • The entire estate passes to any surviving spouse, either married or legally separated but not divorced, in the absence of children of the marriage.
  • A surviving spouse with one child each receives 50 per cent of the estate. 
  • If there are more children the estate will be divided equally between the spouse and children. 
  • If there is no surviving spouse or children the next line of succession are parents, siblings and their descendants, followed by uncles, aunts, nieces and nephews.
  • Should the deceased have no living relatives the estate will revert to the Italian State.

There are different types of Italian wills, what are they?

There are three different types of Italian wills. The first is a handwritten or ‘holographic will’, known in Italian as a ‘testamento olografo’; handwritten, dated and signed by the testator and can be written in any language. There is no need for witnesses. Whilst it is a straightforward and legitimate document, it is good practice to have it reviewed by an Italian inheritance lawyer to ensure that all the formalities and legal requirements have been addressed.

The next type of will is a formal will (‘testamento pubblico’). This type of Italian will is drafted by Italian Notaries according to the instructions of the testator. The Notary then reads the will aloud so that the testator can confirm it meets with their wishes, before being signed in the presence of witnesses. Before making an appointment with an Italian Notary you should ensure that you either have an official translator with you as not all of them speak English.

The third type of Italian will is a secret will, or a ‘testamento segreto’. These wills are drafted by the testator and then placed in a sealed envelope before being taken to an Italian Notary by appointment for storage. The contents remain undisclosed until after the death of the testator.

How do you create an Italian will?

You should seek the advice of an Italian inheritance lawyer with specialist knowledge of cross-border succession legislation who will be able to draft your will in accordance with the law associated with Italian wills and that the law of forced heirship which applies automatically, unless you stipulate that you wish for England & Wales law to apply. 

You should instruct an English-speaking lawyer with legal knowledge of both jurisdictions to ensure there is complete clarity on every point. Your lawyer will advise you on the most appropriate type of will to draft to reflect your individual circumstances and will accompany you to the appointment with the Notary and also assist with an official translator, if necessary.

How does Italian probate work?

After a death, beneficiaries have certain obligatory tasks to undertake, including an official search for a will; making an inventory of the assets; ascertaining the bank accounts and whether there is a safety deposit box. They will also have contact with the appropriate authorities and inform them of the death before embarking on the Italian succession process.

Once the type of will has been established, the next stage involves collating all the supporting documents. It is advisable to seek the assistance of an Italian lawyer, who will then assist you to make your Declaration of Succession (Dichiarazione di Successione), which is similar to a Grant of Probate in the UK.

This declaration must be made within six months of the date of death, and involves completing Italian Ministry of Finance documentation stating the worldwide assets of the deceased and details of the beneficiaries, then either applying to the tax office of the town in Italy where the deceased was resident or presenting the declaration to the relevant tax office in Rome if the deceased was not an Italian resident. You must pay any Italian inheritance tax due, before being able to receive the inherited assets.

Italian succession involves a significant amount of administrative procedures, and guidance from an Italian lawyer specialising in inheritance law is strongly advised. This will ensure all the legalities are dealt with correctly regardless of the type of will and the law of the country which is to be applied. 


Declaration of Succession: the equivalent of a Grant of Probate and known in Italian as the Dichiarazione di Successione. This document allows assets in Italy to be released to the beneficiaries and must be made within six months of the date of death.

Intestate: when someone dies without making a will, they are said to have died ‘intestate’. This will lead to fixed assets such as property being distributed according to Italian law.

Statutory Share: successione necessaria in Italian, this is the minimum statutory share of an estate that must be left to immediate family members before the balance can be disposed of freely.

Testamentary Succession: the assignment of the estate of a deceased testator according to the wishes set out in their Italian will.

Unity of Inheritance: the principle on which Italian succession is based. It is founded on the difference between property and non-property assets, where different laws apply. The law of the last domicile or citizenship of the deceased applies to non-property assets, whereas with property assets, the law of the country where the property is located applies.
Giambrone & Partners' Italian inheritance, will and trust lawyers are experts in cross-border succession law, including the complexities of the Italian succession process. The right assistance from Italian inheritance lawyers from the outset ensures that your loved ones do not find themselves facing drawn-out problematic procedures.

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