A woman who never knew her father after he abandoned her mother while she was pregnant has discovered she is in line to inherit his land and property in Italy.
Amy Fabris, 49, a dental nurse from Bournemouth, said her mother was left penniless when her dad, Giampietro, returned to his native Italy after kidnapping her older brother. Decades went by without contact – Amy had never met her father – then in 2020, Amy was told he had died, aged 72, from coronavirus.
Giampietro had been living in Wembley, north west London, when he passed away – and as he didn’t leave a will, Brent Council hired a firm called Finders International to track down his long, lost relatives. Her father was unmarried at the time of his death, which meant Amy and her brother were entitled to all of his assets – and this includes land and a flat located in Vicenza, between Venice and Verona in Italy.
Amy and her mother had been living in Zimbabwe when her father abandoned them. She had no idea he was living in the UK – and just a 90 minute drive away – until after he died and she was contacted by the probate genealogy firm. Amy said: “We were shocked to hear our dad was living in the same country as us, decades after no contact. He was unknown and the memories that existed were not pleasant. My father only brought hardship to my mother’s life having left us penniless when I was born.”
The Italian estate has been transferred to Amy and her brother – but it’s going to be a lengthy process, involving local solicitors in Italy, before she receives any money. The costs so far on the Italian side are around €3,000 in solicitors fees and the next stage is for the property to be sold off, which could take between six months to a year.
The estate itself has also not yet been valued, so it is hard to know exactly how much money the siblings will eventually end up with once fees have been deducted. The cheapest rural land with a habitable building is in excess of €50,000.
Finders International will collect fees once the pair receive their pay out after the estate has been fully wound up. Amy separately inherited £7,000 from her father – but by the time lawyers and other costs were covered, it left no money for Amy. If someone dies without a will and their family cannot be traced, it is declared “bona vacantia” which means “vacant goods”. Each estate must be claimed within 12 years before it passes to the Crown Estate, and interest will be paid on money held.
You might be able to claim going back as far as 30 years, but this is down to the discretion of the Government Legal Department and no interest will be paid for the final 18 years. The order of inheritance goes from spouse to children, parents, brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces, then half-brothers and sisters. Next are grandparents, before other branches of a family tree start to be explored. About 500,000 people die every year in the UK and Ireland without a valid will. You can find a list of unclaimed estates on the Gov.uk website, including information on how to put in a claim.
Amy said: “Not only did I have to contend with dealing with the death of my father with whom I had an estranged relationship, and the memories were bitter, but the legal process seems to take ages, is costly and needs dedication. Don’t get me wrong, I’m hugely grateful to inherit some of my father’s estate, and I understand most members of the public won’t ever inherit in their lifetimes.
“I didn’t have the luxury of a relationship with my father, therefore I didn’t have a grasp over his affairs, nor could I be there for him if he needed me. I’m grateful the heir hunting process did enable the rules of intestacy and I could be traced, and I hope after all the legal costs there will be something for me to enjoy.”
Daniel Curran, founder and managing director of Finders International, said: “A recent survey by the charity will-writing scheme, Will Aid, identified that more than half of UK adults have yet to make a will. Those who die without a valid will may leave their loved ones with little control over their assets, and potentially open to costly legal challenges and delays in sorting out the estate. While there are plenty of cases where large estate values are discovered [in the millions] in the majority of cases, however, individual entitlements are not likely to be large. Large windfalls are rare because estates often need to be shared by all the living next of kin.”
Geoffrey Odds, company secretary of the International Association of International Professional Probate Researchers, added: “There’s been a significant rise in international intestacy cases due to increased global migration over the past 50 years. This means many more family members and next of kin now live in other countries. The good news is the chances of our professional probate research companies tracing them is getting better. Social media and digitisation of public records has supported this and we expect there to be a lot more collaboration among global genealogists in reuniting family members with their rightful inheritances in the future.”