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30 September 2020

Transfer of a property in Switzerland on the death of the owner abroad

Following the article on what happens with a property in Switzerland on the death of its owner in the UK, this article discusses the concrete steps to be taken abroad and in Switzerland in order to enable the heirs to whom the property in Switzerland is vested to have it transferred in their favour, respectively to sell it. We will focus in particular on cases of inheritances opened in England, Germany and France.

Inheritance opened in England

Under English law, the heirs do not receive the estate directly from the deceased – in contrast to Switzerland where the deceased's property passes to the heirs upon death - but from an intermediary beneficiary, the personal representative (called executor if appointed in testamentary dispositions or administrator if appointed by an English authority).

The personal representative must manage the assets composing the estate and pay the debts due under English law before transferring the estate to the heirs.

The documents to be collected for the transfer of the property located in Switzerland are a grant of probate or letters of administration duly apostilled, the testamentary provisions giving the personal representative the power to act, and an affidavit from an English notary on which the names of the executors and their powers under English law appear. These documents must be translated by a sworn translator into the official language of the place where the property is located in Switzerland.

The issue of the devolution of real estate located in Switzerland to a trust is not addressed here and will be addressed in a future note.

Inheritance opened in Germany

The certificate of inheritance under German law can be regarded as a certificate of inheritance within the meaning of article 559 of the Swiss Civil Code and thus be recognised for the purposes of the land register in Switzerland.

A European Certificate of Inheritance, issued by a German authority and drawn up in accordance with the EU Succession Regulation, is also accepted by the land registers in Switzerland.

In Germany, the certificate of inheritance is issued by the inheritance court of the deceased's last domicile at a cost set in proportion to the value of the estate. As an example, the cost of the certificate will be approximately CHF 4,000 for an estate estimated at CHF 1 million and more than          CHF 25,000 for an estate estimated at CHF 10 million. Obtaining a certificate of inheritance can therefore be complicated not only by the requirement to indicate the value of the estate (which implies knowing the assets that compose the estate and estimating their value) but also by the fact that the heirs will have to pay an amount that may prove to be substantial to obtain it when they do not yet are in possession of the assets composing the estate.

The certificate of inheritance must be submitted to the land register in Switzerland either in original or as a certified copy with an apostille.

It should be noted that, even in non-German-speaking cantons, the land register does not normally require a translation of the certificate into the official language of the concerned canton.

Inheritance opened in France

For the transfer of real estate located in Switzerland as part of a "cross-border" succession, it is necessary to obtain a notarial deed from a French notary. This act includes all the useful information on the deceased and his presumptive heirs, as well as all information on the provisions due to death likely to disrupt the legal devolution. This deed is drawn up at the request of one or more heirs of the deceased and contains the affirmation, signed by the heirs, who are the authors of the request, that they are entitled, alone or with others whom they designate, to receive all or part of the deceased's estate.

In practice, this act therefore makes it possible to establish proof of hereditary status. The notary who draws up the deed must ensure that the witnesses are actually familiar with the information included in the deed after having carried out a preliminary verification.

A notarial deed is in principle recognised as sufficient by the Swiss land registry offices to legitimise the right of the heirs listed therein to request the transfer of a property.

A European certificate of inheritance, issued by a French authority and drawn up in accordance with the EU Succession Regulation, is also accepted by the land registers in Switzerland.

Registration of new owners in the Swiss land register

The above-mentioned documents will enable the Swiss land register of the location of the property to register the heirs designated as owners of the property (deed of devolution signed by the heirs). The heirs will have to include in their budget the fact that the transfer of the property will trigger the obligation for them to pay transfer duties, which are calculated as a percentage of the value of the property.

If the property that belonged to the deceased is sold, the same heirs will have to sign the deed of sale directly or by proxy through a representative. The latter solution simplifies the process if the heirs are numerous and/or unable to travel to Switzerland. However, it should be noted that in such a case, the power of attorney must meet certain formal requirements.

The intervention of a Swiss notary will be required to authenticate the deed of devolution or the deed of sale.

In parallel, the heirs will have to consider completing and filing a declaration of inheritance in Switzerland, which will include at least the real estate located in Switzerland. Details on the tax implications of the succession will be discussed in the next article in this series.


For more information please contact Christophe at christophe.levet@crsblaw.com or on +41 (0)22 591 18 56.

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