Family at war over £4 Million will

Posted: 10th October 2012

The Court of Appeal is being asked to decide whether English or Italian law should be applied to a family dispute over the £4 million estate of an Italian businessman who spent more than 50 years living and working in England before his death.

Piero Curati, came to England in the 1950s and made a fortune as a restaurateur and property developer before dying, aged 81, in 2007. His elderly sister has since been at loggerheads with his niece and nephew over the disposition of his estate which includes substantial assets in both England and Italy.

At the heart of the dispute are two wills Mr Curati executed in 1980 and 1994, the first in England and the second in Italy. If the earlier will was superseded by the latter, his sister will inherit all his assets worldwide. However, if the 1980 will remained valid on Mr Curati's death, his wife's niece and nephew will inherit the assets he held in England which are valued at around £1.8 million after inheritance tax.

The niece and nephew succeeded in persuading a High Court judge in 2011 that English law prevailed and that the 1980 will remained valid because Mr Curati was domiciled in England at his death. However, that decision is now being challenged by the sister in the Court of Appeal.

Her lawyers argue that, if Italian law holds sway, the dispositions contained in the 1980 will were revoked on the execution of the 1994 will. They submit that Mr Curati never thought of himself as British, pointing out that he remained an Italian citizen throughout his life and continued to speak his native Italian dialect fluently. It is argued that Mr Curati may have forgotten about his English will and that, had he remembered it, he would have wanted it revoked.

Ruling in favour of the niece and nephew in 2011, Mr Justice Sales said that, despite Mr Curati’s powerful Italian roots, he regarded England as his home and considered himself to be British. ‘I have reached the conclusion that the 1994 will did not wholly revoke the 1980 will. The material part of the 1980 will, which leaves the English estate of the deceased to his niece and nephew, continues to be valid and must now be carried into effect,’ the judge said.

Lords Justice Pill, Munby and Tomlinson have now reserved their judgment on the sister’s appeal against that decision and will deliver their conclusion at a later date.