Why Italians with assets in England and Wales need an English Will

For Italians who own assets in England and Wales, having both an English Will and an Italian Will is crucial to ensure their estate in each country is managed and distributed according to their wishes, and to avoid future issues on death. Here are the key reasons:

The Italian and English legal systems are fundamentally different. 

Italy follows civil law with strict rules on forced heirship, where specific shares of the estate must be left to specific close relatives. On the other hand, under English law, testamentary freedom allows you to decide who is to inherit your assets on death, and in which proportions. Having a separate English Will can prevent legal conflicts and ensure that your English estate is administered smoothly according to English law.

Efficient estate administration

Having an English Will dealing with your English assets helps to make the process of administering an estate on death more straightforward 

A valid Will prepared under English law will be more readily accepted by the Court. It will therefore avoid the need to legalise a foreign Will and it will facilitate quicker and more efficient estate administration and distribution of the deceased’s assets among the beneficiaries named in the Will. This can significantly reduce the legal and administrative burden on the executors and beneficiaries.

What are the tax implications

Inheritance Tax laws differ between the two countries. An English Will allows for specific planning to attempt to minimise the inheritance tax due on the estate. Proper Inheritance Tax and estate planning within the English jurisdiction can potentially save the estate significant amounts of money.

Protection of assets

Owning properties, bank accounts or assets in general in England and Wales without an English Will may result in those assets being subject to default rules of intestacy, which may not align with your intentions.

An English Will provides clear instructions on the distribution of these assets and also allows you to choose whom to appoint as executors to deal with the estate administration on your death, from reporting the value of your estate to HMRC and paying any Inheritance Tax, to distributing the assets according to the provisions in your Will. It may be an opportunity to appoint someone in England, who knows the language and the procedures, for this important role.

There are no forced heirship rules in England

Unlike Italy and other jurisdictions, there are no forced heirship rules under English law. This means individuals have the freedom to distribute their assets as they see fit, without the obligation to allocate specific shares to particular family members. 

However, please note that under English law, certain people close to the deceased, including the surviving spouse and children, may be able to bring a claim against the estate if they believe that they should be entitled to a bigger share of the estate. Although certain categories of people are eligible under statute to bring a claim does not mean that the Court will grant it, as the Court’s decision will be based on a full review of the Will, the personal and financial circumstances of each case, and the intentions of the deceased.

Strategic estate planning

This lack of mandatory distribution rules under English law enables more strategic estate planning, potentially benefiting those with complex family dynamics, but also individuals with substantial English assets including business structures. 

An English Will can for instance include different types of trusts, and the estate can potentially benefit from reliefs and exemptions available under English law.

Key takeaways

For Italians with assets in England and Wales, having both an English Will and an Italian Will is not just a matter of legal formality but a practical necessity that can often save future issues and headaches for your loved ones.

Finally, please note that, if you have both an Italian and an English Will, it is paramount that these two documents are properly drafted, so that they can co-exist, they only dispose of the assets in that specific jurisdiction, and they do not revoke the Will in the other jurisdiction.

How Moore Barlow can help

If you would like to discuss your Will, please feel free to contact Flavia Mongiello – a Private wealth solicitor who fluently speaks Italian and English.