Inheritance tax in Switzerland: rules for estates

Expats should make sure they know how inheritance tax in Switzerland could apply to their assets. As with many things in Switzerland, the rules vary by canton.

Inheritance tax Switzerland

By Danielle Richardson

Updated 7-2-2024

Estate tax in Switzerland can apply if you buy a Swiss property, so estate planning is vital. Inheritance tax rules and what you pay can also vary depending on which Swiss canton you live in.

Alongside preparing for your retirement in Switzerland and your will and estate, learning about inheritance tax is a great way to plan for later life in the country.

To help you understand inheritance tax in Switzerland, this article covers the following topics:

Wisler Legal

Wisler Legal is a Swiss law firm providing German and English services. Based in Zurich, they provide expat-friendly advice on a range of inheritance matters, helping you find solutions that are fair for all parties. So, whatever your inheritance needs in Switzerland, Wisler Legal can offer guidance and support.

Switzerland inheritance law and succession rules

Expats living in Switzerland can choose whether Swiss inheritance tax law or the laws of their home country should apply in the event of their death. If someone dies without leaving a will or expressing their preference, then the inheritance tax laws in Switzerland apply by default.

Elderly couple reading newspapers on bench in Brienz

Swiss inheritance law includes forced heirship rules, which means that certain relatives cannot be disinherited even through a last will and testament.

This means that – without a will – 50% of the estate goes to the spouse or registered partner, while 50% of the remaining half to the children and grandchildren (the legal heirs). Although spouses and children still receive a compulsory share of inheritance, since 2023 this has been reduced to 25% each. Furthermore, parents are no longer entitled to automatically receive a share of the estate.

Any statutory heirs that receive an inheritance under forced heirship can also contest a Swiss will that disinherits them or doesn’t honor the necessary amounts. However, they can also renounce their statutory rights by signing an inheritance renunciation contract.

Spouses, registered partners, children, and grandchildren are usually exempt from the tax. Stepchildren and fostered children are also exempt, if they have the same status as biological children in their canton.

Inheritance law on pensions in Switzerland

In some cases, spouses and children can inherit some of their relative’s pension. If the deceased paid AHV contributions for at least one year, a surviving spouse, same-sex registered partner, or child may be eligible for an orphan’s or survivor’s pension.

A partner can receive CH 956–1,912 per month, while children can get CHF 479–956.

If you receive benefits for old age or disability, the survivor’s pension increases by 20%.

Switzerland inheritance tax

If you’re an heir who has inherited something under Swiss inheritance law, you don’t have to accept it. In fact, you can choose from three options:

  • Accept the inheritance
  • Reject the inheritance
  • Accept, subject to public inventory

The last option would be used if you’re unsure of the deceased’s financial situation and are concerned the assets you inherit will be outweighed by debts.

Rural house in a field surrounded by trees

A decision must be made within three months of the date of death; otherwise, it is assumed that the inheritance has been accepted. Furthermore, the Swiss government website has more guidance on how to disclaim an inheritance.

If you do want to accept the inheritance, heirs can also obtain a certificate of inheritance from the Swiss authorities to prove their right to inherit. Financial institutions need this certificate before money can be withdrawn from the deceased’s accounts.

The certificate costs vary depending on the canton, but can be up to a few thousand Swiss francs. It generally takes six to 12 weeks to process.

Estate tax in Switzerland

When it comes to inheriting property, several factors affect how much tax is due:

  • The property’s market value
  • The degree of relationship to the deceased – the closer the relation to the deceased, the lower the tax rate

How much inheritance tax will I pay?

Rates of inheritance tax vary between Swiss cantons. Some share inheritance tax responsibilities with the municipalities, while some levy taxes on their own. Furthermore, two cantons – Obwalden and Schwyz – charge no inheritance tax at all.

You can find even more information on Swiss inheritance tax in your canton on the Swiss government website.

Accountant making calculations

The taxable rate also varies depending on the value of the assets and the relationship the heir has to the deceased. The charges are payable by the person who inherits the estate, but tax doesn’t apply to personal and household goods.

If you’re struggling to work out what you owe, the Swiss government provides a calculator and Credit Suisse offer an overview of inheritance taxes by canton (link to PDF in article). You can also explore tax advisors in our Directory.

Inheritance tax in Bern

Spouses, children, and grandchildren aren’t taxed in Bern. Other heirs are split into three groups:

  • Lowest rate (Group 1) with a tax multiplier of six: parents, grandparents, siblings, and those who cohabited with the deceased for more than 10 years.
  • Middle rate (Group 2) with a tax multiplier of 11: nephews, nieces, aunts, uncles, and in-laws.
  • Highest rate (Group 3) with a tax multiplier of 16: anyone else.

There is a tax-free allowance of CHF 12,000. The multipliers mean you’ll pay 1–40% tax, based on the following rates:

Tax base (CHF)Tax rate
Up to 110,6001%

As an example, if someone living in Bern receives CHF 200,000 from a deceased sibling, they will pay 6.22% in tax.

Inheritance tax in Geneva

Tax rates in Geneva also vary depending on the relationship between the heirs and the deceased. There is a tax-free allowance of CHF 500, and the following taxes apply after that:

RelationshipTax rate
Spouses, descendants, parentsTax exempt
Partners, other relatives, and third partiesup to 26%

Inheritance tax in Zurich

Spouses and descendants aren’t charged inheritance tax in Zurich. Other heirs are split into six groups:

  • Parents
  • Grandparents and stepchildren
  • Siblings
  • Step-parents
  • Uncles, aunts, nieces, and nephews
  • Anyone else

There are also a number of allowances available:

  • Parents: CHF 200,000
  • Unmarried/unregistered partners who lived with the deceased for five years or more: CHF 50,000
  • Dependent persons with a disability: CHF 30,000
  • Fiancees, siblings, grandparents, stepchildren, godchildren, foster children, and those who have been employed as home help for more than 10 years: CHF 15,000

The tax rates are as follows:

Tax base (CHF)Tax rate
Up to 30,0002%

Paying inheritance tax in Switzerland

Swiss inheritance taxes are usually due within 20 days of receiving the tax assessment.

Expats in Switzerland, as well as Swiss residents abroad, can benefit from the country’s double tax treaties. These have been set up with more than 50 countries, and ensure you won’t get 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 also see a list of financial advisors in Switzerland on our business directory to seek expert advice.

Useful resources