Italy does not have domestic rules on trust.
However, trusts created under foreign law are recognized and enforceable in Italy pursuant to the provisions of the 1985 Hague Convention on the Law Applicable to Trusts and Their Recognition, which has been ratified and implemented and is fully effective in Italy as part of Italian legal system.
The Hague Convention was signed on July 1, 1985 and ratified in Italy with law n. 364 of October 16, 1989 and entered into force on January 1, 1992. It is aimed at harmonizing the private international laws of the contracting states relating to trusts; provides that each contracting state recognizes the existence and validity of trusts created by a written trust instrument; sets out the general characteristics of a trust and establishes rules for determining the governing law of trusts with cross-border elements.
According to the Convention, as implemented in Italy, a trust created pursuant to and governed by the law of a country that has provisions governing trusts is recognized and valid in Italy, subject only to the overarching limitation of Italian public order principles.
Purely internal trusts, with Italian grantors, Italian beneficiaries and assets located in Italy are also recognized.
With the Finance Bill for 2007 Italy enacted, for the first time, specific provisions dictating the tax treatment of trusts for Italian tax purposes. They establish general principles on tax classification and treatment of trusts in Italy for income and indirect tax purposes and have significant cross-border implications
On August 6, 2007 Italy’s tax administration issued Circular n. 48/E that provides administrative guidance on the interpretation and application of the new tax provisions on trust. Circular 48/E clarifies the tax treatment of trusts both for income tax and transfer (indirect) tax purposes.
Subsequently, Italy’s tax administration issued additional interpretative guidance by way of Circular n. 61/E issued on December 27, 2010.
Generally, for a trust to exist as a legal and tax entity separate from the grantor, the trustee and its beneficiaries, there must be a real and effective legal separation of the trust’s assets from both the estate of the grantor and the beneficiaries of the trust and the trustee must be granted with real powers of administration of the trust, acting independently from and not being under the direct or indirect control of the grantor or beneficiaries of the trust.
Once it is positively established that a trust actually exists, as a general rule, for income tax purposes trusts are classified as separate taxable entities and taxed as corporations.
However, trusts with income beneficiaries that are identified and named in the trust agreement are treated as fiscally transparent entities – that is, income is attributed to the beneficiaries as provided for in the trust agreement, regardless of whether and how the trust distributes its funds, and the beneficiaries are taxed directly on their share of trust’s income. This fiscally transparent treatment applies also in the event that after the initial creation of the trust, the trustee determines the income beneficiaries of the trust pursuant to the authority granted in the trust agreement.
A trust is resident in Italy for tax purposes if its place of management or place of activity is located in Italy. Trusts formed in jurisdictions that do not allow exchange of information with Italy are treated as residents and subject to worldwide taxation in Italy, if certain connections with Italy exist (for example, if any grantor or beneficiary is Italian), unless taxpayers provide sufficient evidence that they are resident (that is, effectively managed) outside of Italy.
Trusts must keep tax books to compute their taxable income (taxed upon the trust in case of fiscally non transparent trusts, or passed through to and taxed upon the beneficiaries in case of fiscally transparent trusts).
A gratuitous transfer of assets to a trust is subject to gift or estate tax. The tax is charged at reduced rates (4 and 6 per cent) if beneficiaries named in the trust agreement or determined by the trustee at any time thereafter are close family members. Otherwise, the regular rate for trusts with no identified beneficiaries or beneficiaries that are not close family members or charitable trust is 8 per cent.