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Switzerland - Wills

If you are a foreign national your final wishes, as expressed in your will, may be subject to the laws of your home country rather than those of Switzerland. If you neglect to write a will or have obtained Swiss citizenship your estate will be dealt with under Swiss law. However, if you are a foreign national but have a Swiss spouse who pre-deceases you, his or her estate will be divided according to Swiss law. As international law is complex, to be on the safe side you may wish to specifically state in your will that you wish your home country legal system to apply. This is known as home country rights (Heimatrecht). This does not affect the inheritance tax issues.

The Swiss inheritance system will divide an estate up in a specific way among surviving family of the deceased if there is no will. This is known as Pflichtteil and is similar to the rights of succession that apply in other countries. Writing a will in Switzerland gives you greater rights to divide your estate as you wish, but for Swiss citizens there will still be certain portions that must go to specific family members. For example, your children and spouse cannot normally be disinherited in a will, although you can use contracts of inheritance to counteract this if all concerned are in agreement. If you are married and do not have children your parents are granted a portion by Swiss inheritance law and you would need a marriage settlement, as described below, to remove this entitlement.

It is important to write a will if you wish an unmarried partner, children with an unmarried partner, or step-children to inherit. If you are in a same-sex partnership that has been registered you do have a right to inherit from one another, and are treated in the same way as other spouses with regard to inheritance tax. If you own property in Switzerland it would be wise to take legal advice with regard to inheritance issues and taxation.

You have a choice between drawing up a will in your own handwriting and paying a public official to draw up a will on your behalf, which requires the presence of two witnesses. Verbal wills are not normally valid and should not be relied on. If you are handwriting a will, you can write in any language and will find example text (in English) on http://www.moneybasics.ch/ Note that it must be entirely handwritten with no typed sections. Once you have written, signed and dated your will you can submit it to a notary for safekeeping. There is a central register of wills (G: Zentrales Testamentenregister, F: Registre central des Testaments) in Bern.

Contracts of inheritance (Erbvertrag) are recognised by Swiss law and can be used to waive or grant rights of inheritance. A notary or public official will be required to certify the contract and those involved must be over 18 years of age.

Married couples without children can draw up a marriage settlement (Ehevertrag) which allows them to inherit shared assets acquired during the marriage from one another. Inheritance contracts and marriage settlements are drawn up by a notary. Similarly, a cohabitation agreement (Konkubinatsvertrag) can be drawn up for unmarried couples but must be properly certified by a notary in order to be valid. In all cases, you will need to grant your partner/spouse power of attorney so that they can access any individual bank accounts that you hold after your death.

Useful Resources

Central Register of Wills
Waldeggstrasse 72, Postfach 12, 3097 Bern-Liebefeld
Tel: +41 31 310 58 11

Association of Swiss Notaries
Schweizerischer Notarenverband, Tavelweg 2 CH 3074 Muri
Tel: +41 31 310 58 40
Email: info@schweizernotare.ch

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