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Disclaiming an inheritance

Are you unsure about the financial circumstances of a deceased relative? Are you afraid that you will simply inherit debts? Or would you rather not inherit anything at all? In such situations, you can disclaim an inheritance.

An inheritance can be disclaimed within the first three months following the death of the testator.

If you disclaim the inheritance you refuse to accept what has been left to you. You may choose to make use of this possibility if you fear that the testator’s debts are likely to exceed the assets. You can obtain information about a deceased person's financial circumstances from their last tax return, from bank statements or by obtaining a certificate from the debt enforcement register.

If the financial position is unclear, you can ask for a public inventory to be made within one month of notification of the death. The relevant authority makes a list of the assets and debts that make up the estate by publishing a call to the deceased's creditors and debtors in the Official Gazette.
If a public inventory is requested, once this has been drawn up you must decide whether you wish to:

  • disclaim your inheritance;
  • request official liquidation (all assets are ingathered and debts paid, and the heirs receive what is left);
  • accept the inheritance subject to a public inventory (the heirs are liable only for debts that are listed in the inventory) or without reservation (the heirs are jointly liable from the inheritance and their own personal assets).

In the cantons of BL, BS, GL, ZG and ZH you can request the court to issue an ‘information permit’. This allows you to obtain information from banks, authorities, etc. in order to work out the extent of the estate.

Requesting an information permit (only in BL, BS, GL, ZG and ZH)

Time limits

After three months, the inheritance is deemed to have been accepted. The heirs are liable from their assets for the debts of the deceased and become the owners of the assets making up the deceased's estate.

Loss of the right to disclaim your inheritance

Note: if heirs take assets from the estate either openly or surreptitiously (with the exception of worthless items), they will lose their right to disclaim their inheritance.

What happens if I disclaim an inheritance?

If you do not want to accept an inheritance, you can do so by sending a registered letter to the competent authority at the deceased's last place of residence. The inheritance will pass to the next person in line by law. This person will also have three months from then in which to disclaim the inheritance.

If none of the heirs want to accept their inheritance, the estate will be liquidated by the bankruptcy office and the available assets used to pay the debts. If any surplus is left, this will go to the lawful heirs.

Requesting a public inventory or disclaiming an inheritance – the competent authorities at the deceased's last place of residence.