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Wills & Inheritance Law in Switzerland
Add Date:2010-4-23      

Wills & Inheritance Law in Switzerland

copy from: http://geneva.angloinfo.com/countries/switzerland/wills.asp

The key information you need regarding inheritance law and will-making in Geneva, Switzerland.

Every effort has been made to offer information that is current, correct and clearly expressed. The information in this summary is intended to be no more than a general overview of the position and certain details have been deliberately omitted. The contents of this page should not be taken as an authoritative statement of Swiss law and practice. Neither the author nor the publisher are responsible for the results of actions taken on the basis of information contained in this summary, nor for any errors or omissions. This text is not intended to render legal, accounting or tax advice. Readers are encouraged to seek professional advice concerning specific matters before making any decision.


International inheritance and estate matters can be very complex, in particular if your assets are located in different countries. Moreover, disposing of your estate may trigger tax consequences. It is, therefore, highly recommended to seek expert advice on estate planning at an early stage. The following will give you a rough overview of the basic principles of inheritance law in Switzerland.

Who should make a will

You should think of making a will if you are resident in Switzerland. 

In general, an estate of a person who is resident in Switzerland is subject to Swiss inheritance law. However, a foreigner may submit their estate to the law of the country or countries they are a citizen of.

For example, in absence of any will, Swiss inheritance law will apply to the estate of a British citizen who is resident in Switzerland. They may, however, submit their estate to English law by means of a will.

  • Please note that the Swiss authorities will be competent for probate proceedings with regard to the estate of a person with last residence in Switzerland, irrespective of whether Swiss or foreign law applies. An exception may be applicable to real estate located abroad.

The process of making a will

You may dispose of your estate either by will or by inheritance contract

While the will consists of a disposition by the testator only, an inheritance contract is an agreement made by and among the testator and the statutory heirs and/or third persons.

  • Wills: The testator may either choose to:
    • i) write a holograph will (which needs to be entirely handwritten, signed and must include date and place), or 
    • ii) obtain a will drawn up and certified by a notary. 
    • In case of emergency, an oral will can be made before two witnesses. 

    Wills can be changed at any time. However, you should make sure to state that the new will replaces all prior dispositions made with regard to your estate.

  • Inheritance Contract: By concluding an inheritance contract, the testator may oblige themselves to bequeath their estate or a legacy to the other party (or a third party). It is also possible to conclude an inheritance contract in order to waive an inheritance. Inheritance contracts need to be certified by a notary.
Inheritance Law

Under Swiss law, descendants, parents and spouses are statutory heirs. In absence of a will or inheritance contract, in principle the following applies: 

  • The surviving spouse gets:
    • a) half of the estate if there are descendants of the deceased, or
    • b) three quarters of the estate if there are no descendants but parental heirs, or
    • c) if there are no parental heirs either, the full estate. Children always inherit in equal shares.

Statutory heirs are protected by the mandatory rules on statutory legal portions (also called forced heirship). This means that a person may not dispose of his entire estate at their discretion. Rather, their descendants, surviving parents and spouses are entitled to a portion of the estate by statutory law. 

The statutory legal portions are based on the aforementioned statutory quotas which the statutory heirs will get if a person dies intestate. Descendants are entitled to three quarters of their statutory quota, and surviving parents and spouses each to one half of their respective statutory quota.

It is important to note that under Swiss law, the heirs acquire all assets and all liabilities of the deceased at the moment of death. The heirs form a simple partnership (Communauté héréditaire/Erbengemeinschaft) until the estate has been divided according to the applicable rules.

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