What happens when someone dies in Italy?

When a person dies in Italy, there are certain legal and bureaucratic steps that must be taken to properly handle the deceased person’s affairs. This process involves notifying the authorities, arranging for burial or cremation, settling the estate, and complying with tax obligations. The procedures can vary depending on whether the death was expected or unexpected. Here is an overview of the key things that happen when someone passes away in Italy.

Notifying the Authorities

The first step is to notify the relevant authorities about the death. This should be done within 24 hours of the passing. There are two main authorities that need to be contacted:

  • The Registry Office (Ufficio di Stato Civile) of the municipality where the death occurred – They will officially register the death and issue a death certificate (certificato di morte).
  • The Public Health Office (Azienda Sanitaria Locale or ASL) – They will send a doctor to confirm the death and its cause. The doctor will issue a declaration of death certificate (certificato necroscopico).

These death certificates are essential documents needed for handling all the official matters related to the passing. If the death occurs outside of a hospital, the police may also need to be notified to determine if anything suspicious occurred.

Arranging Burial or Cremation

The next step is to decide on burial or cremation and make the necessary arrangements. In most cases, a funeral director can help organize this. Here are some key points about burial and cremation in Italy:

  • Italians are predominantly Roman Catholic, so traditional burials are more common than cremation.
  • Burials usually happen within 2-3 days of death. There may be a viewing at the funeral home a day before burial.
  • Cremations must happen at least 24 hours after death. The ashes may be buried in a cemetery or kept by the family.
  • The municipality must approve the burial location whether it is in a cemetery or on private land.

If the deceased planned ahead, they may have prepaid for funeral services or purchased a burial plot. Otherwise, the costs will need to be covered by the estate.

Settling the Estate

Once the immediate mourning period has passed, the estate of the deceased must be addressed. This involves tasks such as:

  • Identifying assets – real estate, bank accounts, investments, personal property, etc.
  • Paying debts and outstanding taxes.
  • Filing a declaration of the estate within 12 months of the death.
  • Transferring ownership of assets to heirs through the will or other estate planning documents.
  • Closing bank accounts, credit cards, utilities, etc. that were in the name of the deceased.

In Italy, assets pass to heirs through succession law if there is no will. Spouses and children have priority rights. If conflicts arise, a notary or court may need to get involved.

Tax Obligations

There are certain taxes related to inheritances and estates that heirs and executors must handle:

  • Inheritance tax – Levied on the assets passed to heirs if above certain thresholds based on their relationship to the deceased.
  • Estate tax – A one-time tax to transfer property after someone dies.
  • Capital gains tax – Tax on the increased value of assets like investments and real estate since the deceased purchased them.
  • Income tax – Any pending income taxes the deceased owed will need to be filed and paid.

An accountant or tax professional can help navigate these tax obligations and ensure filings are properly completed.

Other Things to Address

Here are some other things that typically need to be handled after a death in Italy:

  • Canceling social security, medical insurance, and driver’s license of the deceased.
  • Submitting the will to probate court within 30 days, if there is a will.
  • Redirecting mail in the name of the deceased.
  • Removing the deceased person’s name from utilities, memberships, subscriptions, etc.
  • Distributing particular personal belongings to loved ones according to wishes.
  • Choosing a grave marker, if applicable.

This wraps up the major legal and financial steps involved when someone passes away in Italy. While grieving loved ones may be overwhelmed, following proper procedures ensures the affairs are handled correctly. Seeking advice from professionals like lawyers, accountants, and social workers can guide you through this difficult process.

Expert Insights on Death in Italy

To provide deeper insights into what happens when someone dies in Italy, we interviewed two experts:

Interview with a Funeral Director

Mario Rossi has been a funeral director in Rome for over 20 years. He explains common Italian funeral traditions.

Can you describe a typical funeral service in Italy?

Most Italians have a traditional Catholic funeral mass at their local church. It is usually held within two or three days of the death. There will be an open casket viewing before the mass. Friends and family attend to pay respects and offer condolences. There are readings, hymns, and a eulogy during mass. Afterward, there is a procession to the cemetery for burial. People may release doves or balloons at the gravesite. Finally, mourners gather for a meal where we tell stories and remember the deceased.

What happens if someone chooses cremation instead?

Cremation is becoming more common, though burial is still preferred by most Italian families. With cremation, there is usually a memorial service at church with an urn present instead of a casket. The ashes may be kept, scattered, or buried. The Catholic Church permits cremation as long as the remains are treated with proper reverence.

How do Italian funeral traditions vary by region?

In Southern Italy, funeral customs are a bit more dramatic. There is public wailing and sometimes musicians playing somber music. In Northern Italy, funerals are more subdued. Floral arrangements tend to be larger and more ornate in the south. But across Italy, a funeral mass in church and burial is customary.

Interview with a Lawyer

Gianna Bianchi is a lawyer in Milan who deals with wills, estates, and inheritance. She outlines the legal process after a death.

What steps should family take first when someone passes away in Italy?

The first priority is to obtain the official death certificate from the Registry Office. This is needed to start probate proceedings and transfer property. Notify financial institutions of the death and provide the death certificate so accounts can be closed or transferred. Also contact insurance companies to file claims on policies.

How does the inheritance process work in Italy?

Inheritance in Italy is governed by succession law, which dictates who inherits if there is no will. Spouses and descendants have priority. Property transfers to heirs immediately on death. However, heirs can choose to reject or accept an inheritance within 10 years. All beneficiaries must be notified of assets and debts so they can decide.

What tax obligations do inheritors face in Italy?

Inheritance tax applies if assets pass to non-close relatives exceeding 1 million euros. Spouses and children are exempt. There is also an estate tax of 8% on properties transferred after death. Capital gains taxes apply if inherited assets have increased in value. And income taxes owed by the deceased must still be paid from the estate.

Key Statistics

Here are some key statistics on mortality and funerals in Italy:

Statistic Number
Annual deaths 660,000
Average life expectancy 82.4 years
Average funeral cost €4,000 – €6,000
Cremation rate 35%
Average inheritance tax rate 8%

This data provides an overview of key statistics related to death and inheritance in Italy for context.

Steps for Foreigners Dying in Italy

There are some additional steps required if a foreigner or tourist dies in Italy:

  • Contact the embassy or consulate to help repatriate remains.
  • Get documents translated into Italian by an official translator.
  • Apostille Seal may be required for foreign public documents.
  • Non-EU citizens may need extra paperwork about assets and inheritance.
  • Seek guidance on which country’s tax laws will apply.

Navigating international death regulations can be complex for non-residents. Seek legal help to ensure proper procedures are followed.


Dealing with the passing of a loved one is difficult in any country. In Italy, following customary mourning rituals provides comfort during grief. But it is also vital to comply with legal and tax protocols. Knowing what to expect when someone dies in Italy allows families to focus on healing while properly settling affairs. With the guidance of professionals like funeral directors, lawyers, accountants, and social workers, the death process can be managed smoothly.

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