A recent ruling by the Italian Supreme Court (Corte di Cassazione, no. 17790/2015) has intervened on the issue of whether the heirs of a deceased policyholder can access personal data relating to beneficiaries under the policy.

The Supreme Court has confirmed the principle that heirs of the deceased policyholder are not entitled to request the name of the beneficiary under the policy and therefore such information cannot be disclosed by insurers. The ruling further explains that, even if heirs are generally entitled to process the data of the deceased policyholder (as provided under article 9 of the Italian Privacy Code), this principle does not apply to the personal data of beneficiaries.

The ruling confirms the opinion previously given by the Data Protection Authority on the same issue (and set out in some of its rulings, for example those issued on 22 September 2003, 15 June 2011 and 26 March 2009). In these rulings, the Data Protection Authority classified the data of a beneficiary as personal data not data belonging to the deceased policyholder, and accordingly not to be disclosed by insurers.

It remains to be seen how commentators and subsequent case law will interpret the issue. Commentators have already pointed out that such ruling may contrast with the general principle of Italian law by means of which heirs, in their quality as universal successors of the deceased policyholder who succeed into all the deceased’s legal relationships, become the holders of all the rights of the deceased policyholder, including the right to consult and access any executed contractual agreement.