Body kept in morgue for years amid inheritance squabble

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The case has now reached Italy's Court of Cassation. Photo: Gabriel Buoys/AFP
11:24 CEST+02:00
In a macabre example of how Italy's notorious bureaucracy can cause problems not only throughout one's life but also after death, a corpse has been lying in a freezer in Bolzano Hospital for eight years due to a legal dispute among the relatives of the deceased.

The corpse, which has been kept in the pathology department of the hospital since 2008, cannot be buried until a family disagreement over inheritance is resolved.

A civil case is in progress in order to determine the blood relationship of family members and their rights to inheritance, which after eight years of legal strife has now reached Italy's Court of Cassation in Rome.

It's incomprehensible to Dr Guido Mazzoleni, from the hospital's pathology department, who described the bizarre case as an "absolute exception".

"The DNA of the deceased has been confirmed," he told South Tyrol's German-language newspaper Dolomiten. "Not only did my predecessor take bone and tissue samples from the corpse, but I have as well, and so have other court-appointed experts."

However, Mazzoleni said that each new expert involved in the case has the right to request DNA samples, so it has not been possible to bury or cremate the male corpse until the case is finally resolved.

Under Italian secession law, no matter who a deceased person leaves their assets to in their will, close family members or 'forced heirs' are automatically entitled to a share of the assets. 'Forced heirs' include spouses, even if separated (but not if divorced), and children. If there is no will, or a will is invalid, assets are divided equally among the closest relatives of the deceased.

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But the corpse's eight-year stay in the morgue is causing problems for the hospital. There are only two other freezers, and they are needed for cases when third-party responsibility for the death cannot be ruled out, or if there is a delay in tracking down the relatives of deceased people. This often happens for example when homeless people die, and the corpses are kept in the freezer until relatives can be contacted and a funeral organized.

While the civil case is ongoing, both parties are responsible for the costs to maintain the body.

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