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Switzerland - Death

Deaths in Switzerland must be registered with the appropriate authorities. For at home deaths, first call a doctor who will need to verify cause of death. The doctor should supply you with a death certificate. Within a couple of days, register the death with the local registrar (G: Zivilstandsamt, F: Office de l'état civil), taking both the death certificate and your own passport or identity card. Failure to do this can result in a fine. If there is no surviving spouse or children, responsibility to register a home death passes to next of kin if living in the same area, otherwise to anyone sharing the accommodation. If none of these apply, the person who discovers or witnesses a death holds this responsibility. A hospital or nursing home will normally register a death of a patient.

Once the death has been registered arrangements may be made for cremation or burial. Cremation is not permitted in all cantons and funeral costs vary according to the location. Funeral directors (Bestattungsunternehmen) will generally ensure all necessary regulations are met and requirements are fulfilled.

If you work, a day or two compassionate leave will normally be allowed by your company. It may additionally be permitted to take annual leave at short notice.

Heirs are issued with inheritance certificates (G: Erbbescheinigung, F: certificat d'héritier) by the local authorities and will then be able to deal with the necessary authorities or withdraw funds from the accounts of the deceased. Children will always be entitled to a share of a parental inheritance, regardless of whether a will was made, and will receive an orphan's benefit until completion of education. A married woman, where the couple did not have children together, will only currently be entitled to a widow's if married for at least 5 years and if at least 45 years old. Where the couple had children, the surviving spouse will receive a widow's or widower's pension, although for men this only lasts until the youngest child is 18. For marriages that were over 10 years in duration, ex-wives enjoy a similar status to still-married couples.

A spouse who is not a Swiss citizen and who entered Switzerland under a dependant's visa rather than a working visa should seek advice on his or her situation, as this is likely to effect his/her entitlement to remain in Switzerland. The situation is more hopeful for those who have been resident for at least a year but in all cases seek clarification.

Contact the Federal Office of Justice (G: Bundesamt für Justiz, F: Office fédéral de la justice) on matters relating to inheritance, and your local authorities on all other death-related matters.

Families in Switzerland sometimes send out printed notes to inform friends, neighbours and relatives of the death. However, there may simply be an announcement in the local paper. On the death of someone you know it is usual to send a card expressing your condolences. One appropriate phrase in German is "Unsere Gedanken und Gebete sind bei Ihnen" which means "Our thoughts and prayers are with you". However, a condolence card or note in any language will be appreciated. You can also send flowers if you wish, although the death announcement may request that a donation be made to charity instead, in which case these wishes should be observed. Only attend a funeral or wake if invited. If you wish to attend but have not been asked to, you should use your discretion about asking the family if you may do so.

Useful Resources

Federal Office of Justice
For matters relating to inheritance law
Bundesamt für Justiz, Bundesrain 20, CH 3003 Bern

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