Since our last article: Claim your Italian inheritance…before it’s too late, the stories of financial intrigue and general administrative bungling that reached our attention could serve as fodder for several hit movies. The recurring theme running through most of the emails and telephone calls allows us to conclude that misinformation and false assumptions cause Italian Americans to lose control of “forgotten” property in Italy.
The crux of the problem: the rational of Italian law does not always run parallel to American logic. Essentially, we find many making false assumptions in two areas:
- Last Wills & Testaments
- Adverse Possession (Squatters Rights)
Last Wills & Testaments
Briefly, the immediate family members of the decedent, cannot be excluded from an inheritance. A spouse and all of the children have guaranteed rights. If either or both have been omitted in a will, it still may not be too late to claim assets or recover the property. Thus, it is incorrect to assume that only those named in the will are the only heirs.
In the absence of a will, the estate is divided among the immediate family according to succession law. See inheritance_chart.pdf
Adverse Possession (Squatters Rights)
In order to introduce the subject of adverse possession in Italy one must first eliminate any preconceived ideas that a title report always reflects the present ownership of the property. Along these lines, the question that is usually posed to us is: “In what time frame may one lose the property by adverse possession ”
The short answer: There are various time frames: 10, 20 & occasionally 30 years in the case of raw farm land. Ten years applies to those holding a deed which turns out not to be valid. In the eleventh year, the rightful owner may not challange its validity.
Adverse possession may take place after twenty years in instances in which the user of the property possesses no deed at all. The user of the property lives in the property hoping to establish the semblance of ownership until the twenty-first year.
It is essential to understand that in addition to the various time elements Italian law introduces several other conditions. For adverse possession to take place, the squatter must comply and meet the following acid test:
The squatter must continuously and uninterruptedly openly occupy the property, pay taxes over the course of the years, and be in good faith in believing that he or she is really the owner.
With regards to the last condition, if you wish to free up the property you may be in a more favorable position if you can prove the user of property was aware of your existence.