16 February 2021

The unbearable lightness of inheriting

  • Articles
  • Legal
  • Inheritance / Succession

Conversations about inheritance and succession do not always have to be difficult

No one likes to have a conversation about their demise - and even less about the inheritance that comes with it and who should receive it. However, the last few months have been dominated for all of us by the Corona pandemic. This also rubbed off on the discussions in the close family circle. The awareness of the proximity of life and death came to the fore more than usual. We at MME have also noticed this: for some months now, our clients have been asking us more than usual about inheritance law issues, which are obviously being discussed in many families under the weight of the pandemic. The main focus of such discussions is on how to deal with special assets such as real estate, works of art or participations in companies. But special family constellations such as patchwork families with children from previous relationships or new life partners of single parents are also frequent topics of discussion.

These questions raised in the family circle show us that many people are roughly familiar with the legal context of inheritance and bequests, but that great uncertainties arise when it comes to the concrete application to their own situation. Here are a few examples of questions we have been asked in recent weeks:

  • Can I leave all my assets to my wife without asking the children?
  • Do I have to leave anything to my siblings?
  • Can I use my assets freely during my lifetime, e.g., give them away to organizations important to me?
  • Can I treat my husband's children from his first marriage the same as our joint children in terms of inheritance law?
  • What is the difference between property law and inheritance law?
  • Can I appoint my daughter as sole heir to my business?
  • Do I have to take over the property together with my brother?
  • Do I have to inform my children about my will?

It is our daily work to support our clients in this ""unbearable lightness"" of bequeathing and inheriting and to answer their sometimes very complex questions. It is my intention to pass on to you three important insights from this:

  • 1. Before you start discussing inheritance and bequests with your family, have a clarifying conversation with a professional who is experienced in inheritance law. Much has changed in recent years. Such a discussion will give you background knowledge on the subject of ""estate planning"" and show you what concrete scope you have to transfer assets while you are still alive or to plan their allocation under inheritance law.

  • 2. Swiss inheritance law is being revised. The revision has already been approved by the National Council and the Council of States and will probably come into force on January 1, 2023. It changes important cornerstones of inheritance law, such as the amount of compulsory portions, the right of parents to inherit, and also the procedure for pension fund beneficiaries or pillar 3a. Further revisions will follow. Therefore, also review an existing will or estate plan.

  • 3. Transparency about gifts and inheritances in the family is the most important measure you can take to avoid a later dispute. Therefore, involve all parties in your deliberations. If it is difficult for you to have such a conversation ""alone"", you can also call in professionals who have learned to deal with psychologically delicate situations.

My colleagues in the MME inheritance law team and I talk every day about legacies, complicated family relationships or coveted items in family estates. We are accustomed to factually addressing even emotionally sensitive issues that are often repressed in family conversations, but which nonetheless weigh heavily on the mind. We are practiced in conducting conversations on the subject of inheritance and succession with our clients and their families with a ""bearable lightness"" and in most cases can point out practicable ways to deal with inheritance and also family challenges. Almost always, the ""fog"" over our clients' marital and probate issues clears during these discussions. And then we notice again and again how relieved they are when - for themselves or in the family - they have been able to discuss long-postponed issues and find pragmatic solutions to them.

At MME, we have developed a compact background discussion of about one hour's duration that provides you with the basics for an initial assessment of your inheritance law situation. We look forward to arranging an appointment for a direct or a video conversation. We will then be happy to assist you with your personal planning and the appropriate steps for your individual circumstances.