Does inheritance tax in Switzerland and Swiss inheritance law apply to your assets? Read about Swiss inheritance tax rates and if you should consider writing a will in Switzerland.
If you relocate to Switzerland with assets, buy Swiss property, or plan on retiring in Switzerland, it is important to find out if inheritance tax in Switzerland and Swiss inheritance law apply to your assets. As an expat, you must consider if you need to write a Swiss as part of your estate planning, as well as specify if you want Swiss inheritance law or the laws of your homeland to apply.
This guide explains applicable inheritance tax in Switzerland and the rules of Swiss inheritance law, plus what happens if you die without leaving a will (intestate succession) or an estate is unclaimed. It also looks at the different types of wills in Switzerland and how to write a Swiss will.
Swiss inheritance law
Foreign residents in Switzerland are free to choose whether Swiss inheritance law or the laws of their home country apply in the event of their death. If someone dies without leaving a will or expressing their preference, then inheritance law in Switzerland will apply.
Swiss inheritance law includes forced heirship rules, which means that certain relatives cannot be disinherited even through a last will and testament. Under forced heirship in Switzerland, the following provisions need to be made:
- at least 50% of the estate to the spouse/registered partner;
- at least 75% of the remaining half to children (and grandchildren).
Under Swiss inheritance laws, statutory heirs provided for under forced heirship can contest a Swiss will that disinherits them or doesn’t honour the necessary amounts. However, they can also renounce their statutory rights by signing an inheritance renunciation contract.
Swiss inheritance law without a will
If someone dies without writing a will in Switzerland, the Swiss laws of intestate succession apply. This means the estate is divided between:
- children and grandchildren;
- if there are no children or grandchildren, then the estate is divided between parents and siblings (and nieces/nephews);
- if there are none from these groups, then it is divided between grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins.
If no relatives survive and no Swiss will has been made, the estate passes to the Swiss state.
In the event of no will, the surviving spouse/registered partner receives:
- 50% of the estate if shared with children/grandchildren;
- 75% of the estate if shared with parents and siblings;
- the whole estate in any other case.
Cohabitees are not regarded as statutory heirs under Switzerland’s inheritance laws, so will not receive anything if their partner dies without a Swiss will.
Swiss inheritance laws for claiming an asset
Heirs can choose whether to accept or reject an inheritance under Swiss inheritance law. They can choose between three options:
- accept the inheritance;
- reject the inheritance;
- accept, subject to public inventory.
The last option is the most sensible if you are unsure of the financial situation of the deceased and are concerned that assets may be outweighed by debts. If no decision is made within three months of the date of death, an inheritance is deemed to have been accepted. Read the process for accepting or rejecting a Swiss inheritance.
Statutory heirs can obtain a certificate of inheritance from the Swiss authorities to prove their right to inherit. This will be needed by financial institutions before money can be withdrawn from the deceased’s accounts. The cost ranges anywhere from a few hundred Swiss francs to a few thousand depending on the canton, taking around six to 12 weeks to process.
Swiss inheritance law for your Swiss pension
In some cases, spouses, registered same-sex partners, and children may be eligible to receive a percentage of your Swiss pension if you pass away in the form of a survivor’s or orphan’s pension benefit. Read more in our guide to Swiss pensions.
Inheritance tax Switzerland
Swiss inheritance tax and gift tax is levied at the local cantonal level rather than a federal level. Inheritance tax in Switzerland is payable by the person who inherits the estate but does not apply to inherited personal and household goods.
Rates of inheritance tax in Switzerland vary between cantons; some cantons share inheritance tax responsibilities with the municipalities, some levy taxes on their own, and one canton (Schwyz) has no inheritance tax at all. You can find out more information on Swiss inheritance tax rates in your canton on the Swiss government website.
The taxable rate also depends on value of the assets and relationship to the deceased. Swiss inheritance tax rates are comparatively low, especially for close relatives, ranging from zero up to 55%.
Most cantons exempt spouses and children from Swiss inheritance and gift tax. In some cantons such as Geneva and Zug, parents are also exempt. Government bodies and charitable institutions are also exempt from inheritance and gift taxes.
As an example, below is a brief explanation of Swiss inheritance tax rates in the cantons of Bern, Geneva, and Zurich.
Inheritance tax in Bern
Spouses and children/grandchildren are not taxed. Other heirs are split into three groups:
- Group 1 (lowest rate of tax): parents, grandparents, siblings, and cohabitees who lived with the deceased for more than 10 years.
- Group 2 (middle rate of tax): nephews, nieces, aunts, uncles, and in-laws.
- Group 3 (highest rate of tax): others.
Swiss inheritance tax rates in Bern vary from 1–40% depending on the amount, with the lowest band being amounts below CHF 100,000, while the highest tax is charged on inheritance worth more than CHF 600,000. There is a tax-free allowance of CHF 10,000.
Inheritance tax in Geneva
Tax rates vary depending on the degree of relationship between deceased and beneficiaries:
- first-degree descendants/ascendants are taxed between 0–6%
- second-degree descendants/ascendants are taxed between 0–7.2%
- third-degree descendants/ascendants are taxed between 0–7.8%
- spouses are taxed between 0–6%
- others are taxed between 0–26%
There is a tax-free allowance of CHF 5,000 for descendants, ascendants, and spouses, and CHF 500 for others.
Inheritance tax in Zurich
Spouses and descendants not charged inheritance tax in Switzerland. Other heirs are split into six groups, in descending order of preferential treatment with regards to tax rates:
- Group 1: parents
- Group 2: grandparents, stepchildren
- Group 3: siblings
- Group 4: step-parents
- Group 5: uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews
- Group 6: others
Tax rates vary up to 40% depending on the amount, with the lowest band apply to amounts up to CHF 30,000 and the highest band applying to inheritances worth more than CHF 1.5 million.
The following allowances are also granted.
- CHF 200,000 for parents
- CHF 50,000 for unmarried/unregistered partners who lived with the deceased for five years or more
- CHF 30,000 for dependent persons with a disability
- CHF 15,000 for fiancé(e)s, siblings, grandparents, stepchildren, godchildren, foster children, and home help employed for over 10 years
Paying Swiss inheritance tax
Swiss inheritance taxes are generally due within 20 days of receiving the tax assessment.
Switzerland has double tax treaties with more than 50 countries to avoid foreign residents, and Swiss residents abroad, getting taxed by two different countries. If your country is not listed, you could be subject to paying Swiss inheritance tax as well as inheritance tax in your home country. You can see a list of on financial advisors in Switzerland to seek expert advice.
Do you need a Swiss will?
There are three types of Swiss wills:
- Holograph will: a handwritten Swiss will that is kept either by the testator or a notary.
- Public will: the testator gives instructions for their Swiss will to a notary or official in front of two witnesses.
- Oral will: a Swiss will is given verbally to two witnesses, made in special circumstances where there is an immediate threat of death.
It is possible to change a Swiss will at any time and it is also permissible to have two wills – a Swiss will and one drawn up in your home country – as long as one doesn’t accidentally revoke or negate the other. It is best to consult with a solicitor or lawyer first if you are thinking of doing this.
Besides making a Swiss will, you can also make the following provisions for your estate under Swiss law.
Contract of succession
This is a contractual arrangement that you can draw up in agreement with your heirs. It should be done under the guidance of a notary. All parties to the contract must be older than 18 and any amendments or cancellations require the consent of all parties. Under a contract of succession, a statutory heir can officially renounce their rights to inherit.
You can donate parts of your estate while you are still alive, as long as the donations don’t encroach on the portion of your estate reserved under forced heirship rules. However, donations are subject to Swiss gift tax, which is usually levied at the same rate as inheritance tax. Gifts made during the last five years of life will count towards the statutory entitlements of statutory heirs.
Writing a will in Switzerland
This is a handwritten Swiss will that is signed and dated. The will can be kept at home or given to a notary in return for a fee. A holographic Swiss will must contain:
- A header stating ‘Will’
- Your name, date of birth, and place of birth
- If previous wills have been made, there needs to be a statement that these have been revoked
- Instructions on how to distribute your estate, bearing in mind the Swiss rules of forced heirship
- You can make instructions to set up a foundation to use your assets for a specific purpose
- You can name executors for your estate if you wish
- Details of date and place where the will is written
A template for a Swiss will can be found on the website of the Swiss government.
You must give instructions for your Swiss will to a notary in front of two witnesses. The notary draws up the will and it is signed by you and the witnesses. The will is then placed in the Central Register of Wills. Details of notaries in Switzerland can be found here.
This is an emergency Swiss will given when there is an immediate threat of death (e.g., in wartime). You give the instructions for the will orally to two witnesses who put it in writing at the earliest opportunity, detailing the date and place the will was made, and explanation of the emergency circumstances. The will is then signed and sent to the court authorities.
Unclaimed Swiss inheritance
If an inheritance is unclaimed, if there are no heirs or it is rejected by all beneficiaries, then the estate is passed to the Swiss state.