Inheritance The perils of a will

If you plan to leave a will, you should grapple early with what provisions to include. You must also keep the law and formal requirements in mind.

by UBS Insights 27 Aug 2018

In a will, you can choose your heirs, direct bequests and issue instructions on how to apportion your estate or name preliminary and reversionary heirs. But planning your succession is rife with pitfalls that are best avoided.

Is the will subject to regulatory requirements?

First, ask yourself whether a will is necessary at all. Factors to consider:

  • you want to change the statutory succession;
  • you want to give someone a share of inheritance, or a particular object or amount;
  • you want to determine how your assets are apportioned;
  • you are cohabiting or you have a patchwork family;
  • you would like to employ an independent executor of the will to distribute your estate.

Perils of wording

Do the formulations

  • “I appoint X and Y as heirs each of CHF 50,000” and
  • “I direct to X and Y each a bequest of CHF 50,000”

look identical to you? They are not. In the first version, both named persons could be seen as sharing the status of a single heir. Since all heirs must agree to how the inheritance will be divided, this can make settling the will more complicated (for example, when the heirs are not cooperating or live abroad).

Beware of inheritance tax

Inheritance tax can also prove perilous: This particularly concerns bequests of costly objects intended to go to persons who are not relatives of the testator. It is possible the recipient of your expensive painting would not even be able to pay the taxes due.

Premature death of the beneficiary

If appointed heirs die before the testator, the object returns to your estate. In this case, the share of the inheritance concerned may go to legal heirs who should not be receiving anything all.

Organize funeral arrangements separately

Funeral arrangements, for example whether you would prefer a burial or cremation, do not belong in a will, but in a separate document.

In general

In any case, it is advisable to get an expert on board when drawing up a will.

What you need to know

A will must be handwritten or officially certified.

Swiss inheritance law is based on a system of family relationships (parentele or orders): Closer relatives rule out more distant relatives. Additionally, the spouse has a claim to inheritance.

Surviving spouses, registered partners, descendants and parents (if there are no descendants) have a claim to a mandatory portion.

A legacy (also called a bequest) is a testamentary gift of a particular portion of an assets. Legatees must inform the heirs or the executer of the will whether they want to accept the legacy.