05 April 2023

What needs to be done when a member of the family dies?

  • Articles
  • Legal
  • Inheritance / Succession

When a close person passes away, there are many things to do in addition to dealing with the grief. This article provides you with an overview of what needs to be considered in the event of a death.

If the deceased person has issued directives for his or her funeral, they need to be respected as far as possible. Such directives are often kept together with a will or an inheritance contract. Moreover, the law requires you to submit any will or inheritance contract which you find, are aware or in possession of to the competent cantonal authority. If you are uncertain whether a document is a will or an inheritance contract, it is advisable to submit this document anyway. Even “only” copies must be submitted.

After the death certificate has been issued by a doctor, the death must be reported immediately, i.e. within 48 hours, to the residents’ register and burial office of the competent authority of the deceased's place of residence.

If you do not want to accept your position as an heir (e.g. because the estate is insolvent or you would prefer your children to inherit), you can reject the inheritance. The deadline for such a decision is three months.

If there is uncertainty as to whether the estate could be over-indebted (e.g. due to unknown debts etc.), you can request a public inventory within one month after the death. The competent authority will thus compile a (binding) inventory of all assets and liabilities of the estate. Thereafter, you have the right to unconditionally accept or reject your inheritance, to accept it under public inventory only or to request the liquidation of the estate. The deadline for such a decision takes one month and begins after the public inventory has been officially edited. If there are reasonable doubts about the over-indebtedness of an estate, you have to take care not to “interfere”, since interference is deemed accepting the inheritance without reservation. “Interfering” can be any action that exceeds the mere administration to secure the estate.

If you accept the inheritance, you can then request the certificate of inheritance at the competent cantonal authority. In addition, the relevant banks need to be informed of the death and you should request their bank statements as of the date of death. The OASI (old-age and survivors’ insurance) and pension fund must also be notified by submitting the certificate and the respective claims. If a vested benefits account or policy or a pillar 3a account/policy or a life insurance policy exists, you can request direct payment from the respective financial institution if you are a beneficiary.

In a further step, the documents for the tax inventory procedure need to be prepared. Pets, if any, may be relocated and, if necessary, the postal mails may be redirected. Vehicle number plates may be deregistered at the road traffic office or transferred to a new owner. If the deceased has disposed of his digital estate, his instructions regarding online accounts and social network profiles must be respected.

Finally, all insurances of the deceased should be informed and the respective insurance policies can be cancelled. Ongoing contracts (e.g. rental agreement, newspaper subscription) need to be checked and cancelled.

Once the certificate of inheritance has been issued, by law, the heirs become a community of heirs and are able to initiate the division of the estate. Please note that until the estate is divided (i.e. it’s respective parts are allocated to the different heirs), the community has joint ownership of the estate, must act together and can only decide unanimously.

Do you need more information? Are you uncertain about how to proceed with an estate? Our inheritance law experts are happy to assist you with any arising question. We look forward to hearing from you.