Inheritance in Switzerland

Inheritance in Switzerland

Updated on Thursday 20th May 2021

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The Swiss Civil Code contains provisions on several family matters, among which inheritance and succession are very important. The legislation provides for how an estate can be divided between the relatives of a persons who drafts a testament, but also in case of sudden death and no will is available.
The inheritance and succession legislation is a very complex matter, which is why many persons choose to consult with a Swiss law firm for drafting a will or what to do in order to ensure their assets are distributed based on their wishes.
Below, our lawyers in Switzerland explain how inheritance is distributed in this country, however, for in-depth assistance, we will provide case-to-case assistance.

The Inheritance Law in Switzerland

According to the Swiss Inheritance Law, parents and spouses are regarded as statutory heirs. According to the Inheritance Law, when a will is not drafted or an inheritance contract is not concluded the surviving spouse is entitled to: half of the estate if any descendants exist, three quarters of the estate if there are no descendants but one or both parents of the deceased live, or the whole estate if no children or parental heirs exist.
According to the statutory laws, individuals may not dispose of their Swiss estate as they see fit, as the Succession Law mentions that descendants, spouses and parents have the right to a portion of the estate. Also, according to the Swiss law, heirs will inherit both assets and liabilities.
Our team of Swiss lawyers can assist persons interested in the inheritance regulations applicable in Switzerland with in-depth information; our attorneys can also present the main taxes that can be applied when inheriting a specific type of asset. Those interested in this subject can also request assistance on any regulations that are applicable at a cantonal level.

The testament as inheritance instrument in Switzerland

As mentioned above, the Swiss Inheritance Law enforces the statutory order in inheritance matters. However, statutory inheritance will not be applied if the deceased has left a testament. The contract of succession is also provisioned by the Inheritance Law in Switzerland. According to the Swiss Civil Code, there are three forms of wills: the public deed, the holographic will and the oral will.
You may address to our attorneys in Switzerland for public testament preparation and notarization. The Swiss contract of succession is concluded between two or more individuals and by which at least one of the individuals renounces the inheritanceOur lawyers can present more details regarding this subject.   

Succession in Switzerland

Succession implies that a portion of the estate must be divided between the heirs in accordance with specific legal requirements. This part of the Inheritance Law ensures that all surviving close relatives of a deceased person obtain a fair share of the estate, this way being protected under the law. Among the close relatives that are entitled to a compulsory part of the estate in the case of death are:
  1. the surviving spouse will be legally entitled to a part of the inheritance after the death of the other spouse;
  2. children and even grandchildren are also entitled to a share of an estate;
  3. the parents of a person who dies are also entitled to a part of the estate of a dead son or daughter;
  4. partners surviving the death of their significant other are also entitled to a share of the estate, as long as the partnership is based on a civil union.
Apart from these, any other person the testator wants to appoint as heir must be mentioned in the will. However, it is important to note that even in these circumstances the interests of the rightful heirs under the law will not be affected. Also, in the case of parents, these are entitled to a portion of an estate only if the deceased did not have any children.
Another aspect to consider is the marital property regime which is strict in Switzerland and will prevail over other existing inheritance regulations. This means that a surviving spouse can claim the marital property and only after this is determined, the remaining part of the estate will be subject to the inheritance compulsory regulations.
Given the fact that a family’s structure is different, we invite you to discuss with our Swiss attorneys who specialize on inheritance matters and who can also represent your interests in case a lawsuit should arise, or you decide to take action in this direction.

Intestate succession in Switzerland

In case a person dies without leaving a will (which often happens), the Inheritance Law in Switzerland provides for the following:
  • if the spouse is the only surviving relative and the couple had no children, the spouse will receive 100% of the estate;
  • if the spouse and children are the surviving relatives of the deceased, 50% of the estate belongs to the spouse, while the other 50% is divided between the children;
  • in the case of unmarried persons who have children, the estate will belong 100% to them;
  • in the case of married persons without children but with surviving parents 75% of the assets will belong to spouse, respectively the remaining 25% belonging to the parents;
  • the same regime of distribution of 75% to 25% applies in the case of surviving spouse and siblings of a deceased person.
In the case of those who want to claim an estate and need to obtain a death certificate of their relative who passed away, the document is issued by the Swiss Civil Registry.
You can rely on our Swiss lawyers for more information on intestate succession, but also for assistance if you want to claim the assets of an estate left to you by will and need to draft and file various documents.

What are the regulations on inheritance for foreigners in Switzerland? 

Switzerland is an attractive business destination for foreign investors, but it also represents a country where numerous foreigners prefer to retire. In this case, foreigners should become familiarized with the rights they have when it comes to succession and inheritance. This can also be the case of foreigners purchasing properties in this country with the purpose of relocating here on a permanent basis. Our team of Swiss lawyers can offer advice on the rights available for foreigners, but the basic information regarding this subject is presented below: 
  • foreigners can choose between the inheritance legislation available in their native country or the Swiss inheritance law;
  • provided that the person did not express an opinion on this matter and did not conclude a will based on one of the two legislations, the Swiss inheritance law will apply;
  • if a foreigner living in Switzerland did not leave a will, the forced heirship regulations will apply;
  • thus, if the person has a partner or children, a large proportion of the assets will be automatically inherited by them. 

Can a person disclaim an inheritance in Switzerland? 

Yes, it is legally possible to disclaim an inheritance in Switzerland and this needs to be done in a period of maximum three months since the death of the relative. As a general rule, persons disclaiming an inheritance do so because they are worried that the respective property transfer will incur a large debt, for which the heir will become liable. 
If this is the case, the heir has the legal right of requesting information concerning the financial situation of his or her relative and such data can be obtained from the latest tax returns, bank statements and other similar instruments. Our team of Swiss lawyers can advise on how to verify the debt situation of a natural person. 
Please note that, depending on the Swiss canton in which the succession occurs, there are other legal instruments that can be used by a heir to verify the last financial situation of a testator. This can be done by obtaining from a local court a document named “information permit”, which will allow the heir to verify the financial situation at any given financial or tax institution. 
When disclaiming an inheritance in Switzerland, if done in the appropriate amount of time, the respective assets will be inherited by the next person in line. The new heir will also have the right to disclaim the inheritance, and he or she will have three months (since the moment when the inheritance was redistributed) to decide on the matter. 
Provided that the person did not disclaim the inheritance in the three months period, the heir is legally required to accept the assets, as stated in the will or following the applicable succession legislation. From that moment, he or she will also inherit the debts associated with the inheritance, if any. 

The inheritance tax in Switzerland

Succession in Switzerland is taxed at cantonal level and is based on the net assets transferred to the heirs. The Swiss inheritance tax applies in the following situations: on the estate of deceased Swiss residents, on the estate of foreign deceased individuals with real estate property in Switzerland and on the estate of foreign deceased individuals with companies in Switzerland.
From a legal point of view, the inheritance tax is applied when the assets of a person are transferred to his or her heirs. The calculation of the tax generally relies on the value of the respective property. However, it is necessary to find out that certain types of assets are not imposed with the inheritance tax and this generally available for personal goods or household goods. 
As a general rule, the inheritance tax is not imposed to spouses, to persons who formed a registered partnership, nor is it applicable to the children of a deceased person, regardless if they are blood related children, step-children or foster children. When applicable, the inheritance tax will be computed based on the value of the property and on the relation of the heirs with the deceased person. 
The calculation of the tax will include a higher tax if the relation between the heir and the deceased is not very close, while in the case of closer family members, the tax rate will decrease. Our team of lawyers in Switzerland can assist with more information on any tax related issues. 
As a conclusion, the inheritance tax in Switzerland can vary based on the canton, but also based on the relation between the heir and the deceased persons; the value of the inheritance is also an important factor. The inheritance tax for surviving spouses ranges between 0% and 6%. However, most cantons have started to eliminate the succession tax for descendants.

Estate planning in Switzerland

Estate planning is one of the most powerful tools a person has when seeking to arrange inheritance matters. The will is by far the most important legal document that give voice to the wishes of a person after his or her death. Other ways of making sure the desire of a Swiss citizen is respected is by drafting inheritance contracts.
A special tool that can be used and that is often employed in Switzerland is the trust. Not only does it make sure all the wishes of a settlor are respected, but the estate can also be administered to the best interest and to the prosperity of the beneficiaries. Moreover, through a trust agreement, even unborn heirs can be provided for.
Our lawyers in Switzerland can help to create wills, inheritance agreements, and also to set up various types of trusts.
For details about the inheritance legislation and taxes you can rely on our law firm in Switzerland; our lawyers can offer a complete presentation on other matters related to the Swiss Inheritance Law, such as the procedure for obtaining a certificate of inheritance and the fees imposed in this case.