Wills and Inheritance in Switzerland

Information on inheritance law and the types of will which apply in the country...

When living abroad it's important to understand how the local laws affect your assets within your country of residence and overseas, and to ensure that you have a valid will in place.

In this section you can find a guide to the various types of will available, plus detailed information on inheritance law for Swiss residents and their families.

Making a Will in Switzerland

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:
    • write a holograph will (which needs to be entirely handwritten, signed and must include date and place)
    • 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.