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British expats in Switzerland: What to do when someone dies

This note provides key guidance on what to do when someone dies resident in Switzerland.

It is always a difficult time and can seem more daunting when dealing with a deceased from abroad. Although a few matters require urgent attention, many can be reviewed in the weeks following the death.

Urgent matters

  • Arrange for the safe-keeping of the body
  • Ensure there is appropriate adult safeguarding for minor children
  • Locate the Will (if there is one). If there are assets in different jurisdictions, there may be more than one; and
    • check if the Will(s) contain any burial / cremation wishes
    • notify the executors of the death. If multiple Wills, are different people named? Do all named executors wish to act? If any wish to renounce, it is essential that they do not get involved in any aspect of the estate administration and expert advice is needed.
    • If there is no Will, consider who are the heirs and therefore who may be entitled to act as personal representative
  • Start making arrangements for the funeral, if appropriate
  • Register the death at the city government office of the deceased’s municipality (Etat Civil / Zivilstandsbeamtin / Stato Civile)
  • Obtain the death certificate from the Registrar at the city government office (Swiss and international versions, if there are assets in different jurisdictions) and several official copies.

Practical action points

  • If there is an unoccupied property, advise the landlord (if applicable) and insurer and check security is satisfactory.
  • Consider whether the supply of utilities such as gas/electricity, water, telephone and internet are likely to be required and notify all utility providers of the death where appropriate.
  • If the deceased owned valuable personal effects, make sure these are accounted for and secure.
  • If appropriate, arrange for the re-direction of post to the executors or their solicitor

Financial action points

  • Inform the deceased’s banks in all jurisdictions
  • Contact any life insurance providers to see if and how payments under any life policies can be made. Sometimes payments can be made prior to the production of a Certificate of Heirs or UK Grant of Probate
  • If the deceased was receiving pension payments, contact any pension providers to prevent overpayments
  • Advise any other institution if automatic payments might be being paid from the deceased’s account(s)
  • Notify the relevant cantonal authorities if the deceased was receiving assistance and request details of any under or over payments for services
  • If you are undertaking the estate administration yourself, you should approach the Justice of the Peace (Justice de Paix / Friedensrichteramt / Giudici di Pace) to obtain approval for the opening a separate ‘succession’ bank account either directly with a bank or with a notary involved in the estate

Estate administration – where do I start?

Start gathering together all paperwork in connection with the deceased’s assets. If you have not already done so, make contact with yours or the deceased’s solicitor or notary. They can offer practical advice and support as well as setting out what steps need to be taken to administer the estate. If the deceased was from abroad and resident in Switzerland, and especially if there are assets in multiple jurisdictions, then specialist advice may be needed.

Next steps

  • Work with the Justice of the Peace for the opening of the estate, and obtaining the Certificate of Heirs if appropriate.
  • It is crucial to determine who are their heirs / beneficiaries of the estate, and if there are multiple Wills, ensure there are no conflicts between them. A lawyer can help with this and you may need specialist advice if there are cross border issues.
  • Seek inheritance tax advice in both Switzerland and the UK.
  • If there are assets in the UK that require a Grant of Probate, prepare the necessary probate and inheritance tax forms.
  • Return passport(s) and driving licence(s) in the relevant jurisdictions for cancellation.
  • If the deceased made a Lasting Power of Attorney in the UK, notify the Office of the Public Guardian of the death (no notification of Swiss powers of attorney is required).
  • Consider informing any clubs, organisations or societies of which the deceased was a member.

Can Charles Russell Speechlys help?

We have a team of Swiss and UK specialists based here in Switzerland, ready to offer as much or as little assistance as you need, even with the ‘urgent matters’ if required. Help is only an email or phone call away.

We offer personal representatives flexible levels of service, ranging from handling an estate administration in its entirety to just the completion of the independent Swiss or UK elements, such as the coordination of the Swiss Certificate of Heirs, or the completion of the UK Inheritance tax account and probate application if required.
Nowadays, it is common for the internationally mobile to hold assets in several jurisdictions. As an international firm, we are perfectly placed to help with these complexities which arise with cross border estates.

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