Procedure to follow after someone passes away in Switzerland
The loss of a loved one is always an emotional time. But it is also a time when the deceased’s family must also cope with a great deal of administrative and legal paperwork. So it’s good to be prepared and make this lengthy process as simple as possible.
First of all, when someone passes away in Switzerland, it falls within the cantons’ administrative remit. But while the tasks or the names of the institutions to contact may vary, the procedure is similar nationwide, and the first stage is always the same. By using this link, you can download a checklist for dealing with this situation: Checklist
Requesting a death certificate
This document is essential when notifying competent authorities of the person’s death. To obtain one, if the person dies at home, a doctor must be contacted so that he or she can prepare the certificate.
If the person died in hospital or at a home for the elderly, the nursing staff will handle the certificate.
In the case of an assisted death, a doctor will be present and will issue the death certificate.
If a person dies of unnatural causes (for example, accident or victim of a crime), the police must first be notified.
Is it possible to request an autopsy in Switzerland?
This is perfectly possible. It can be done by:
- The deceased (on the basis of a prior written statement)
- A next of kin
- The police or the judiciary, in the context of an investigation (forensic autopsy)
- Health authorities, in the interests of public hygiene (sanitary autopsy)
Contrary to what one might think, autopsies are not only used in criminal cases. They can also be used to assess the quality of care provided, or to investigate genetic diseases. It is therefore possible to carry out a medical autopsy, which can mark an important step in the grieving process.
Patient decrees and post-mortem wishes
The question of final wishes with regard to medical arrangements, particularly for organ donations,also needs to be considered. It should be noted that more and more people are donating their bodies to science, which is why it’s important to locate the deceased’s written wishes. It might also make sense to interview other relatives, in case the person expressed their wishes verbally. For more information on the subject, see our article on patient decrees.
Notifying the Civil Registry
Once a death certificate has been obtained, you should contact the Civil Registry for your area. The Swiss national website will tell you which entity this is and provide the contact details. Funeral parlours can also provide this service.
Depending on the canton, different documents will be required. Ideally, you should be in a position to provide:
- A copy of the death certificate
- A certificate of residence (or family record book)
- An identity card or passport
- Marriage certificate or civil record
- A settlement or residence permit (for non-Swiss nationals)
Note that some cantons are less exacting in their requests for paperwork and may take care of collecting the necessary papers themselves.
Note that the death must be notified within two days.
Notifying the municipality of residence
You should also notify the municipal authorities of the deceased’s last place of residence. This is especially important considering that several municipalities offer free burial and cremation services, as we shall see below.
If a Swiss national dies abroad
If a Swiss national dies abroad, the local authorities must be notified. They will then contact the Swiss embassy or consulate, which will then notify the relevant entities in Switzerland.
Repatriation of the body will also be handled by the embassy or consulate. Details of Swiss consular services abroad can be found on the Swiss federal website.
For persons with several nationalities, the embassy of each country should be informed.
Notifying family and close friends
Once the above official administrative steps have been carried out, the relatives and close friends of the deceased should be notified. This can be a sensitive task and should not be done in a hurry. The important point is to avoid upsetting people unnecessarily.
There are different ways of proceeding, depending on the degree of proximity of the people concerned:
- Face to face
- By phone
- By standard mail (obituary notice)
- By email
- Via a text message or an instant messaging service
While many examples of pre-written texts exist on the web, your message should be personal. The form of the text to be used shortly after someone has passed away is quite conventional, abiding by a few key rules.
This service is also offered by funeral parlours.
Organising the funeral
In Switzerland, the funeral must take place between 48 and 98 hours after the death. Depending on the canton, funerals can be organised up to five days after the death, if the body is stored in a refrigerated vault.
It is not uncommon for the deceased to have expressed wishes regarding their preferred type of ceremony. As with patient decrees, you should try to find signed documents or interview relatives on the matter.
Choice of funeral rite
The sequence of events will depend on the type of ceremony chosen. As Swissinfo explains, more or more different funeral rites are being performed these days in Switzerland. These we have detailed in a specific article.
But whatever form it takes, the chosen ceremony will require some logistics:
- Transporting the body
- Choosing the place, date and time of the ceremony
- Drawing up the attendance list
- Publicising the funeral (e.g. by placing a newspaper announcement)
While each rite may do things differently, it is still common for a cremation/burial and the accompanying ceremony (religious or otherwise) to be held in a place of worship. Funeral services are commonly requested to take care of these procedures.
The role of the funeral parlour
We may have wrongly assumed that places of worship provide many of the services. In reality, they provide only a venue and an officiating minister. Most of the other tasks are generally performed by the funeral parlour.
Both private and public (i.e. official) funeral parlours can offer help early in the process, whether for administrative procedures or simply organising the funeral.
Funeral parlours act as a liaison between the family of the deceased and the various parties involved in the funeral. They can also provide services such as preparing the body for burial (or embalming) or looking after the body.
Choosing a funeral parlour
The list of funeral parlours operating in your canton is available directly from cantonal authorities, hospitals or retirement homes. Non-exhaustive lists of such companies can also be found online, for example the directory maintained by the Swiss Federation of Funeral Services, which lists all the companies that have signed their ethical charter and pledged to uphold applicable laws and regulations.
In all cases, it is recommended that you inquire directly about the rates charged for each service. A ceremony can be expensive. Whatever your budget, it is better to know the price in advance by requesting a cost simulation. For example, services provided at weekends are not necessarily more expensive.
Note that the choice of service provider is free, regardless of the deceased’s place of residence.
How much does a funeral cost?
This is a valid question but it’s impossible to give a precise answer. Costs vary significantly depending on the choice of service provider (public or private) and the tasks entrusted to them, i.e. whether they manage everything or only some considerations.
As discussed above, many different funeral rites exist, which in turn leads to some variation in costs.
And within the same rite, the level of service expected may vary. For example, while a standard coffin costs around CHF 1,000, other models are priced many times higher.
One Swiss newspaper conducted a survey a few years back and found that the average cost of burial was CHF 8,000, compared with CHF 5,300 for a cremation.
As mentioned above, many municipalities, via their undertaker service, offer free services such as burials, cremations and funeral processions. It may therefore be wise to find out in advance, especially if your family does not have significant funds at their disposal.
Note that it is also possible to contact the deceased person’s bank to request an advance of funds to cover the funeral expenses. Most banks freeze accounts based on the time of the account holder’s death, for settling inheritance tax, but some may allow a release of funds.
Once the ceremony is over, now is usually the time to take care of the administrative details that have been left pending. Although this moment of remembrance has drained considerable time and energy, there are still matters to deal with. Someone has passed away and must be ‘replaced’ by their heirs as legal representatives for all the remaining procedures. The central consideration is the inheritance.
Any will discovered must be immediately handed over to the competent authority, regardless of when it has been found.
Wills are commonly placed with a notary or a person of trust.
Depending on the canton, the procedure will not be the same. Generally speaking, however, the justice of the peace covering the district where the person resides will oversee the inheritance. When informed of the death by the Civil Registry, it was the justice of the peace who took care of all the information regarding the deceased. This person will certify the heirs and, if there is a will, they will validate it. To be validated, the will must comply with set rules, which we have listed elsewhere.
Estates in Switzerland
Inheritances are a vast and complex subject but here are some of the key principles. In short, heirs can be:
- Named (in the will)
- Intestate (spouse and descendants)
Heirs have several options with regard to an inheritance:
- Accept it
The heirs receive the assets and are liable for the debts. Unless stated otherwise, the government assumes that the inheritance will be accepted.
- Carry out an examination of assets and liabilities
This solution is ideal when it is likely that the deceased had significant debts.
- Request an official settlement
Debts are paid out of the deceased’s assets and the heirs receive the balance.
- Disclaim the inheritance
The estate is not claimed. This is the preferred option if the liabilities exceed the assets.
… because both are included in the estate. The heirs also inherit any signed agreements and powers of attorney, which have to be revoked, as we shall see below. In any case, it is important to analyse the financial standing of the deceased before making any decisions.
Finally, it should be noted that a contract of inheritance, a marriage contract or a divorce settlement can influence a succession.
To find out everything you need to know about inheritance issues (legal provisions, wills, bequests, inheritances, etc.), consult our detailed article on the subject.
The role of the notary
All these procedures are carried out in conjunction with a notary, whom the heirs are free to choose. The notary will conduct much of the business, including:
- Liaising with cantonal authorities (particularly on tax matters)
- Advising heirs on the best option for claiming their inheritance
- Establishing certificates for heirs, to certify their claims with banks, insurance companies and so on
Other death-related administrative duties
As inheritance issues can take several months to settle, it is essential to move forward on other business.
Perhaps the most urgent task is perhaps the housing issue, especially if the deceased was renting. When renting a flat or a house, the notice period is usually three months. Delays in notifying the landlord of the death could force relatives to pay one or more additional months of rent.
Handling the deceased’s accommodation
In contrast to the above, if the family can vacate the house or flat in less time, a sympathetic landlord may be willing to negotiate a quicker termination of the lease.
Four stages must be observed:
- Cancelling the lease with the landlord
- Dividing the furniture and belongings among the heirs (unless the will establishes the division)
- Drawing up an inventory of valuables (if not yet done by the notary)
- Emptying and cleaning the house or flat
Banking procedures after someone passes away
Policies will vary depending on the bank. Most banks freeze the account of the deceased based on the time of death, in order to:
- Calculate the inheritance tax
- Protect the interests of the heirs
The certificate of inheritance will ratify the family’s claim with the bank. The family will then have to revoke any existing powers of attorney in order to manage the deceased’s account.
However, until the final division of the inheritance takes place, the heirs form a community and can only make decisions collectively. Any withdrawals or account closures must be approved by the whole community.
To make life easier, it is usually possible to appoint a single representative for the heirs.
Entities to be informed of the death
Numerous entities must be notified in the event of death. Here is a detailed list (some may have already been contacted by the notary):
- Landlord/property manager
- Insurer (healthcare, life and accident insurance, etc.)
- Tax authorities
- Car registration office
- Associations and clubs of which the deceased was a member
- Newspapers to which they were subscribed
- Subscription software and social media providers
Death of a person under curatorship (guardianship)
When a person is under guardianship (or curatorship), their death terminates this. From that moment on, it is up to the heirs to handle the resulting procedures.
A social worker who helped the deceased – whether in the context of a care directive or within a charitable institution – is not authorised to act in lieu and place of the heirs.
Three elements often overlooked
- Cancelling direct debits
- Requesting repayment of prepaid services (e.g. healthcare premiums)
- Making sure that the deceased was not a caregiver, guardian or looked after other people’s pets
Managing the digital legacy
Our digital legacy is becoming an increasingly important consideration, and this is unlikely to change.
Think for a second about how many connected devices or IT services you use that are password-protected.
And now, try to imagine that number in 10, 15, 20 or even 40 years’ time... You see?
As explained in our earlier article, this novel issue raises several questions.
Solutions falling short
This issue is all the more pressing because while online platforms and services are beginning to take an interest in the matter, their solutions are far from optimal, as illustrated by RTS in January 2018.
In most cases, it is possible to request an online account to be closed. This applies to Twitter, iCloud (Apple) and Facebook, for example. However, it is not possible to retrieve data from these accounts.
Consequently photos, videos, texts or other files are likely to disappear for good. Some data is unimportant, such as administrative documents. But other information has sentimental value.
This represents a fuzzy area in the law that few countries have clarified. The issue sits somewhere between inheritance and data protection law. In Switzerland, data protection law is being reviewed and hopefully the amended legislation will provide some answers.
But the fact remains that most IT companies are non-Swiss, so a solution is unlikely to emerge overnight.
New challenges, time-honoured methods
Based on the above, it seems worth anticipating this issue of our digital legacy, either by keeping the information in a safe physical place, including access data: exact web links, usernames and passwords.
You will also need to remember to update this document regularly.
Make sure you inform a trusted person so that this data is not used against your will during your lifetime.
A simple, effective solution
There is also an online possibility. With tooyoo, you can store all your digital access data and select the person(s) who will receive this information after you have passed away. Your data is encrypted and stored on a server in Switzerland. No one other than yourself has access to your information until your death has been officially announced, by submitting tooyoo a valid death certificate.
Once you’ve saved your relatives time by dealing with your digital legacy ahead of time, there will still be some procedures to follow.
In addition to notifying state and occupational pension authorities of the death, heirs can also enquire whether they are eligible for compensatory benefits.
Widows and widowers are compensated under certain conditions, as explained in our article on pensions.
Concerning orphans, the rule is simpler: children who lose one (or both) parents are entitled to one (or two) pensions until the age of 18. This is extended to 25 if the orphan is in full-time education.
The same applies to the various life insurance policies that the deceased may have taken out. However, these points are likely to be addressed by the notary when the deceased’s assets are divided.
And then, beyond any financial support, there is the emotional aspect.
Bereavement assistance in Switzerland
The burden of paperwork should not be allowed to stifle the emotions of families after the loss of a loved one. Several associations exist to help families through the grieving process. They can organise a variety of events such as workshops, discussion groups and seminars. Here’s a short list:
Although based in specific cantons, most of these support groups offer telephone hotlines or other services not tied to any one area.
‘Anticipate’ is the watchword
The Swiss system is complex, with many regional particularities, and the cost of procedures involving notaries and funeral parlours can easily mount up.
Additionally, such procedures may have to be undertaken quickly (2-4 days to organise a funeral) at a time when people are supposed to be in mourning.
If there is one thing to remember about the long administrative period after someone passes away, it is that certain steps can be taken in advance.
This is also the best way to ensure that one’s wishes are respected, in case of incapacity or when a medical decision needs to be taken.
Finally, with the benefit of clear guidelines, relatives can avoid misunderstandings arising from differences in interpretation.
[CHECKLIST] What you can prepare
When you create a tooyoo.ch account, your information will be presented to your legacy contact in the form of a checklist to help them through this lengthy process.
- Collect together administrative documents (insurance policies, lease, etc.) in a safe place and pass them on to family and friends.
- Inform the heirs about the person’s finances
- Draft a will in proper form:
- file it with a notary
- or send it to a person of trust
- Write a lasting power of attorney
- Do the same for advance directives (patient decrees)
- Centralise information on digital legacy:
- in a secure place, taking care to update this information regularly, and designate a person who is unlikely to misuse it.
- on an encrypted server, such as at tooyoo, which will only pass on the information once you have passed away
Tooyoo offers many other ways of simplifying procedures
Personal planning file, generation of automatic termination letters, advance directives/patient decrees, funeral arrangements and much more.