Key facts at a glance
- If you have not written a last will and testament or an inheritance contract, the law determines how your inheritance will be distributed. Swiss inheritance law governs the relationship between the legal heirs, their claims to the estate and who will inherit how much.
- Since January 1, 2023, you have been able to distribute larger parts of your estate freely with a last will and testament or an inheritance contract. The compulsory portions – the protected parts of the inheritance for legal heirs – have been reduced or removed.
- If you have previously written a last will and testament, you should review it now. This will allow you to ensure that everything is implemented according to your wishes, even with the new regulations.
Without a last will and testament or inheritance contract: what Swiss inheritance law says
Around 70% of the Swiss population do not have a last will in the form of a last will and testament or an inheritance contract. In all of these cases, Swiss inheritance law determines what happens to the inheritance.
How the legal order of succession works
Legal heirs are: the registered partner or the spouse, the family members in a defined order and – in their absence – the canton or municipality of last residence. The closer a person was related to the deceased, the higher they are in the legal order of succession (parentelic system of succession).
The following applies:
- Although not related by blood, married, or registered partners always inherit. Cohabiting partners, on the other hand, have no legal claim to inheritance. Divorced partners are also not considered.
- In addition to the wife or husband, one's own children and their descendants have priority in the succession (1st in parental succession). As long as the children are minors, the surviving parent administers their inheritance. The proceeds may be used for the upkeep, upbringing, and education of the children.
- Second-order relatives (2nd in parental succession), such as parents and siblings, only inherit if there are neither children nor children's children. If one parent has already died, this part of the inheritance is passed on to the siblings. Without siblings, the remaining parent inherits everything.
- If there are neither parents nor siblings nor their descendants, third-order relatives (3rd in parental succession) such as cousins will inherit.
- In the absence of all the above, the inheritance Falls to the canton or commune of the last place of residence.
How an inheritance is distributed according to the law
Inheritance law also defines who among the legal heirs receives what share of the inheritance. These legal portions of the inheritance are calculated in fractions of the total inheritance:
- Married or registered partners receive at least 50% of the inheritance. If there are children, the other half of the inheritance is divided among them or their descendants. Without children, 75% goes to the partner and 25% to relatives (parents, siblings, etc.).
- If the deceased person was not married or living in a registered partnership but had children, they or their descendants inherit 100%.
- If the person had no children, the inheritance is divided in half between the parents of the deceased. If they are already deceased, the siblings will inherit; otherwise, nieces and nephews, etc. will inherit. If there are none of these either, their share of the inheritance goes to grandparents etc. If there are no living relatives, the entire inheritance goes to the canton or commune of the last place of residence.
Good to know
Bequeathing with a last will and testament or an inheritance contract: Making use of leeway
Reduced mandatory portions since January 1, 2023
Swiss inheritance law protects the inheritance of direct descendants as well as that of spouses and registered partners. In any case, they receive a certain share of the inheritance, the so-called compulsory portion. In principle, they cannot be excluded from the inheritance – unless they waive it themselves.
However, in the revised inheritance law, which has been in force since January 1, 2023, the compulsory portions have been reduced: those of a person's own descendants have become smaller, and compulsory portions of the parents have disappeared entirely. With a last will and testament or an inheritance contract, a larger part of the estate can now be freely distributed.
Comparison of the old and the new compulsory portion regulations:
Patchwork families, for example, benefit from the new inheritance law. Thanks to the larger free portion, you can better take stepchildren into account in a will or an inheritance contract.
No compulsory portion for people in a cohabiting relationship – the last will and testament can cover this:
More and more people are living together without a marriage certificate. But despite the revision of inheritance law, unmarried couples or couples who are not living in a registered partnership still have no statutory right of inheritance and no protected compulsory portion. If someone dies without leaving a last will and testament, the other person is left empty-handed in the inheritance. But thanks to the larger free portion, cohabiting partners can protect each other more generously in their last will and testaments or inheritance contracts.
Like cohabiting couples, singles also enjoy a great deal of leeway when it comes to distributing the inheritance. Anyone who has no descendants of their own can freely inherit all their assets and favor people or organizations according to their own wishes.
Last will and testament settled before 2023? Check it now
Good to know
What is part of the inheritance?
What is the difference between a person's inheritance and the compulsory portion?
How does legal succession work?
Are my stepbrothers or stepsisters legally entitled to inherit?
What is matrimonial property settlement?
How do the three matrimonial property regimes differ when it comes to inheritance?
- Community of acquisitions: Under the community of acquisitions matrimonial property regime, the assets you have brought into the marriage remain in your possession. Even if you receive assets as a gift or inherit something as someone who is already married, it is yours alone. Anything else that has been acquired during the marriage belongs to both persons. If the partner dies, the joint property is halved. One half goes to the estate.
- Joint property: Irrespective of when assets were acquired or received as a gift, in marriage everything is fundamentally joint property. If one of the partners dies, his half is divided among the heirs – unless there is a different contractual agreement.
- Separation of property: If the couple has always strictly separated their property, in the event of death it is already clear who owns what and what is part of the inheritance. Matrimonial property separation ceases to apply.