For fear of debt – never before have so many Swiss people renounced their inheritance


For fear of over-indebtedness, many bereaved relatives reject the inheritance. If something remains despite the debts of the deceased, the heirs receive the money – at the expense of the bankruptcy authorities.

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In 2020, the Swiss rejected 6,707 inheritances.

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In 2010, 4494 inheritances were rejected.  The number of rejected inheritances has risen by almost 50 percent in ten years.

In 2010, 4494 inheritances were rejected. The number of rejected inheritances has risen by almost 50 percent in ten years.

20min/Celia Nogler

The bereaved do not want to pay the deceased person's debts.

The bereaved do not want to pay the deceased person’s debts.

Tamedia / Nicole Pont

  • Between 2010 and 2020, the number of inheritances rejected has risen by almost 50 percent.

  • Survivors want to deal with inheriting debts.

  • Because more and more senior citizens are in debt.

Every year around 70 billion francs are bequeathed in Switzerland. But more and more bereaved relatives decide against their inheritance: They do not want to pay off the debts of the deceased person. The case then remains with the state.

Last year, the Swiss rejected 6,707 inheritances. In 2010 there were 4494. The number of rejected inheritances has risen by almost 50 percent in ten years, as the “Sunday newspaper” writes.

The problem: More and more senior citizens are in debt. The proportion of people over 75 who are in arrears rose from 3.7 to 4.2 percent between 2013 and 2019. The reason for this is the rising cost of care for the elderly. In addition, more and more older people want to spend their money themselves rather than bequeath it.

Those who turn down inheritance often get money after all

If an estate is waived, the state lets the deceased person dispose of personal bankruptcy. This is reported in the Official Journal. If there is any money left after the inventory of assets and debts and the deduction of fees, the descendants will receive that excess.

In the end, 15 to 25 percent of estate bankruptcies are left with money, as an analysis by the bankruptcy office of the canton of Basel-Stadt shows. The surviving dependents received between a few hundred and hundreds of thousands of francs.

In the canton of Bern there were even surpluses of several million francs between 2015 and 2020. The average was 70,000 francs. However, a surplus was returned to the heirs in only around six percent of the estate bankruptcies carried out.

City dwellers often forego their inheritance

It is noticeable that more inheritances are rejected in urban areas than in rural areas. This is due to the fact that generations often live even closer together in the country: descendants therefore have more knowledge about the financial circumstances of their parents, as a bankruptcy official told the Sunday newspaper.

If an inheritance is over-indebted, a notary’s office, inheritance office or a court will normally take an inventory. This procedure is expensive. If an estate is waived, the bankruptcy office evaluates the whole thing – for less money.

The bankruptcy offices bear the costs

So if you don’t know whether the deceased person was at fault, you can do without the estate to be on the safe side and save costs. Bankruptcy offices therefore feel abused as cheap labor. Now a working group is looking for a solution.

One possibility would be to give the bereaved more time to compile their own inventory. Or, if you reject an inheritance, you will no longer receive any excess money. For this adjustment, however, a change would have to be made to the civil law.

An inheritance can be refused within three months of the death of a testator. If the financial situation is not clear, a public inventory can be requested within one month of the death of a person. If an inheritance is not accepted, the inheritance goes to the next legal heirs. They then also have three months to reject the inheritance. If no person entitled to inheritance wants to accept the estate, the deceased person’s money will be liquidated by the bankruptcy office. The existing assets are used to cover debts. If there is a surplus, it goes to the beneficiaries.

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