Many people from all over the world choose to make their homes in England whilst maintaining links to the countries of their birth. As a High Court case showed, that common situation can create difficulties when it comes to inheritance.
The case concerned a successful businessman who, in 1960 when he was aged 20, moved to England from the Italian village where he was born. He thrived mightily in this country and, when he died aged 78, left a substantial estate. By his final will, he gave legacies of £50,000 to each of his two sons by his first marriage. Everything else, he bequeathed to his wife.
The sons were unhappy with the terms of the will and launched proceedings in Italy under Italian law. They asserted that, despite their father’s long-term residence in England, he remained domiciled in Italy and the Italian courts therefore had jurisdiction over his estate. They contended that the widow was unworthy to inherit anything from her husband and that their father’s patrimony should be restored to them in accordance with compulsory Italian inheritance rights.
In granting the widow an anti-suit injunction, which forbade the sons from taking any further steps in the Italian proceedings, the Court noted that the businessman was a naturalised British citizen who lived and worked in England for most of his life and who died and was buried here. He married in England and paid his taxes here, and the vast majority of his assets were located here. His sons were also British citizens, having been born in England, and lived and worked in this country.
There was no doubt that the sons were personally subject to the jurisdiction of the English courts. The businessman owned some modest Italian property assets when he died, but the likelihood was that, although his domicile of origin was Italy, he had established a domicile of choice in this country long before his death. Although neither he nor his widow was born in England, they had chosen to live their lives here and to abide by English rules and cultural attitudes.
Given the delay and potential duplication that would arise from the pursuit of Italian and English proceedings in tandem, the Court found that the sons’ resort to the Italian courts was, on the face of it, oppressive to the widow. England was the natural forum in which the dispute should be resolved and the Court had no doubt that justice demanded that the Italian proceedings be stopped.