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The italian inheritance - recovering nonno's lost farm

(Legal concept - Adverse Possession / Usucapione)

“When my grandfather was a young man he, like many others, went to America leaving behind his beloved Italia, his parents, brothers and sisters who continued to manage the farm in those difficult times surviving only after long hours of sweat and toil and the few dollars set aside regularly in America and then sent back to Italy. I never really knew what happened to the land and that house. Later on I found that after my great grandparents passed on that my grandfather’s brothers and sisters continued to work the farm.”

How many of us, still today, have heard this and similar stories. Actually those who emigrated seventy to eighty years ago and even more recently, often left behind family, land and even houses that were never abandoned thanks to the economic support from immigrant family members living overseas. Frequently, those who found their “gold” in America and decided not to return to Italy, subsequently lost interest in the family property for which they and relatives still had a legal claim. (According to the Italian Civil Code under certain circumstances this meant that up to the sixth degree of kinship still held some rights.)

If a will does not exist, Italian law imposes what might be called “forced heirship”, whereby certain relatives are entitled to a fixed proportion of a person’s estate on death. Even if a will does exist, it must consider preset minimum quotas for certain member of the family otherwise the will would  be considered null and void. For example, a spouse, married or separated, will be entitled from 33% to 50% depending on the situation. (For further clarification, see the diagrams to the right. Note that the difference between upper and lower diagrams is that the top diagram considers “a surviving spouse” whereas the lower diagram supposes that the deceased party has no surviving spouse).

What does this all mean? Legitimate heirs may continue to step forward and only time can nullify one’s rights. According to Italian law, there are temporal limits which may be lost if not exercised within a certain time frame. Thus, in the case of legitimate succession, if the relatives in the U.S. do not claim rights to their share, they may be lost forever to those who actually take possession of the property.

If, in a moment of reflection on the family’s genealogy, you feel that a missing link from an inheritance point of view exists, it would be wise to look into the matter before the legal clock runs out. 

Anthony Alioto     
Italian Legal Language Services
(415) 382-6171