– August 27, 2021

Should I reject the inheritance or not?

The fear of inheriting debts is often a reason when it comes to rejecting an inheritance. The heirs also have little time to decide: According to Article 567 paragraph 1 of the Swiss Civil Code, the rejection must be declared within three months.

According to Article 567 paragraph 2 of the Swiss Civil Code, this period begins for the legal heirs – insofar as they have not demonstrably become aware of the inheritance at a later date – at the time when they became aware of the death of the testator. Anyone who misses this deadline has accepted the inheritance in accordance with Article 571 paragraph 1 CC. This means that the heirs become the owners of the estate at that time. Accordingly, they are liable with their private assets for all known and unknown debts of the deceased person.

The heirs do not know the financial situation of the deceased. What should be done in such a case?

First of all, it is recommended that one obtains an overview of the deceased’s finances. An important source of information is the debt collection office at the last residence of the deceased person. The current bank statements and the last tax return usually help as well.  The debt collection statement shows whether there are ongoing debt collection proceedings or even loss certificates. If there are recent certificates of loss or if the deceased was declared bankrupt shortly before his or her death, it is not necessary to reject the inheritance. If in such a case none of the heirs declares that they accept the inheritance, it is liquidated by the bankruptcy authorities in accordance with Article 573 of the Civil Code.

If the financial situation is still opaque, according to Article 580 paragraphs 1 and 2 CC, any heir may request the competent authority to take a public inventory within one month. Thereupon, the authority issues a call for account in terms of Article 582 CC. The inventory lists all reported and known debts as well as the assets. Pursuant to Article 587 paragraph 1 CC, the heirs must decide only after the inventory has been completed which of the variants listed in Article 588 paragraph 1 CC they wish to realise, i.e. whether they wish to reject the inheritance, demand official liquidation or accept the inheritance under the public inventory or unconditionally pursuant to Article 588 paragraph 2 CC. If one expressly accepts the inheritance only under public inventory, one is also only liable for the debts listed in the inventory according to Article 589 paragraph 1 CC.

Important: In order for the inheritance to be rejected, you may not interfere with the estate according to Article 571 paragraph 2 CC. It is clearly considered interference if, for example, you take items from the estate when clearing out the flat or have access to a safe deposit box of the deceased and take items or money deposited there. However, the usual transactions that are necessary for the administration of the estate – so-called mere administrative acts – do not count as interference within the meaning of Article 571 paragraph 2 CC. For example, when paying the death costs or the funeral. If you are unsure whether an act is considered an interference or an administrative act, ask the commune which authority is responsible for such matters – this varies from canton to canton. Then contact the authority concerned and have them authorise you in writing to perform this act.

This is how you proceed with a rejection:

  • Who is responsible? Depending on the canton, the court, the partition office or another authority at the last residence of the deceased person is responsible.
  • What deadlines must be met? The deadline for requesting a public inventory is one month. The deadline for rejecting the inheritance is three months. Both deadlines run for legal heirs from the time they become aware of the death. For appointed heirs, the deadlines run after the court, office or authority has been notified of the will.
  • Can I extend a deadline? If three months is not enough time to get an idea of the financial situation of the estate, you can apply for an extension of the deadline before the three months have expired. Give as good a reason as possible.
  • What is important to know? To be on the safe side, send your rejection by registered letter.

Do you have further questions on the subject of inheritance law? Our inheritance law lawyers advise you in a sensitive and compassionate manner in all matters, in particular in the following areas:

  • Executing the testator’s will
  • Settling the estate (division of the estate)
  • Drafting an inheritance contract, a contract of renunciation of inheritance, or a will
  • Inheritance disputes (challenging a will, action for abatement, etc.)
  • Tax aspects

Feel free to contact us. We are always at your disposal for any questions.