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Successions

You want to prepare your succession or know what actions to take following the death of a close relation. Find out useful information and steps to take to manage these stages of your life.

Mission of the protection Court in relation to successions

The Tribunal de protection de l'adulte et de l'enfant, more precisely its Justice of the Peace service (hereafter: "the Court"), ensures that the successions of persons domiciled in Geneva are carried out in accordance with the law or with the wish expressed by the deceased person in his/her will, until the division of the estate between the heirs is completed.

The main tasks of the court, in connection with each death of a person domiciled in Geneva and when contacted, are the following:

  • Keep the wills entrusted to it before the death and open them after the death
  • Identify the heirs to the succession.
  • Appoint an administrator to manage the estate, in the event that not all heirs can be located
  • Receive declarations from the heirs regarding their acceptance/refusal, request for an inventory or official liquidation of the estate
  • Make certain decisions at the request of the heirs or third parties (inventory of the estate's assets, official liquidation, etc.)
  • Preserve the estate's assets by sealing them at the request of the heirs
  • Intervene in the event of a complaint against the executor
  • Appoint a neutral person (called a representative of the community of heirs) to manage the estate if the heirs do not agree on the management of the estate

The Court is not competent to issue certificates of inheritance. To obtain this document, you must contact a notary in Geneva.

The Court does not have jurisdiction to settle disagreements between heirs.

If the will or the status of heir is disputed, the Tribunal de première instance must be approached. The same applies if there is a problem with the distribution of shares or property among the heirs (partition).

The court is not entitled to give legal advice.

How to prepare your succession

If you do not make a will or your will is not found, your heirs and their share of the estate will be determined by law.

Legal Heirs

Your legal heirs are:

  • Your surviving spouse or registered partner and
  • Your relatives classified according to the principle of kinship: firstly your children (1st degree of kinship); in the absence of them, your father and mother or their children (2nd degree of kinship) and otherwise your grandparents or their children (3rd degree of kinship)
  • Lastly, the State (if you have no spouse, registered partner or relatives)

The share of each legal heir is also provided for in the law. You can find the distribution procedures here.

If you wish to change the legal heirs and/or their share of the estate, you must make a will.

Your will

Taking into account the share of heirs with a statutory entitlement, you can freely and fully dispose of the rest of your estate. This means that you can add heirs (family, relatives, third parties, associations, others) and determine the share, the amount or the property/object that will go to them after your death.

You can designate, in your will, an executor who will be responsible for carrying out your last wishes after your death (making contact with your heirs, helping the heirs reach an agreement on how to divide the estate, paying any outstanding bills, carrying out administrative and tax procedures related to the death, etc).
 

Steps to prepare your will
 

Step 1: drafting

  • You can write your will yourself; in this case, write it entirely by hand, date and sign it by hand as well.
  • If you do not wish to write it yourself, have it drawn up by a notary.
  • In all cases, indicate precisely the persons you designate as heirs, with their contact details, as well as the share you wish to pass on to them. You can also bequeath an asset or an amount to a specific person (natural or legal), a third party, an association or others.

If you choose to draw up your will yourself, there are various people available to help you with this process. They will be useful, for example, to give you legal advice or details on how to draw up your last wishes and the various options available to you for planning your succession.

 

Step 2: conservation

It is imperative that your will can be found so that your last wishes can be followed.

Therefore, you can deposit it:

  • At the Court (Fr. 200.- per will)
  • With a notary (notary fees) who can register it in the Swiss register of wills
  • With a trusted person, who will be responsible for immediately delivering your will to the Court after your death.

It is also possible to keep it at home. In this case, it is recommended that you inform a trusted person of its existence and location.

After your death, the court or the notary will communicate to the heirs the provisions of the will that concern them.

 

Step 3: modification

You may modify your will at any time. This new document must also be written entirely in your handwriting, dated and signed, or drawn up by a notary.

To modify your will:

  • Supplement an existing will with a codicil (supplemental will). In this case, it is important to mention that the added items supplement a previous will.
  • Make a new will that cancels and replaces the previous one.
  • Destroy your old will and any copies of it.

Your rights and duties as heirs

Community of heirs

When a person dies, his/her heirs become joint owners of the assets and liabilities of the succession.

They then take the place of the deceased person in all contracts and obligations that bind him/her towards third parties (tax authorities, banks, insurance companies, landlord, land registry, etc.).
For example, if the deceased had outstanding debts or bills, the heirs become the debtors.

When there are several heirs in the same succession, all of them must agree on the acts of management of the succession (selling property, paying bills, changing a bank investment, designating a representative, etc.).

Individual rights of the heir

As an heir, you can decide individually, within the legal time limits, whether you wish to remain an heir or not.

You have the following options:

You are an heir and want to accept the inheritance without reservation

If you are sure that you want to accept the estate as soon as the death is announced, you can file a declaration of acceptance with the Court. Acceptance is a final act.

If you do not take any steps with the court within the disclaimer time limit (3 months) following the death or knowledge of your status as heir, or if you undertake to manage or dispose of the inheritance property, this means that you accept the inheritance, fully and unreservedly, including its potential debts.

Steps to file a declaration of acceptance:

  • Send a letter in French and signed to the court stating that you accept the inheritance, without conditions. Alternatively, drop your letter directly at the court desk or at the Greffe universel. Mention your name and contact information, the name of the deceased, your relationship to the deceased or your presence in the deceased's will.
  • Date and sign the letter by hand.

The declaration of acceptance will only be valid if you are formally identified as an heir.

If you need an inheritance certificate, contact a notary in Geneva. If there is a will, the certificate of inheritance must be probated by the court.

You are an heir and want to renounce an inheritance

If you do not wish to assume the debts or intervene in the inheritance, you must renounce the inheritance and announce it in writing to the court within 3 months of the death or the knowledge of your status as heir.

The renunciation is a final act. As soon as your written declaration is received by the court, you are no longer an heir. You will lose your right to the assets and will no longer be responsible for any estate debts.

When the inheritance is refused by one or more heirs, it reverts, including their share, to those who have not renounced it, or, failing that, it is liquidated by the Cantonal bankruptcy Office.

Steps to renounce the inheritance:

  • Send the disclaimer form to the court or the Greffe universel within 3 months of the death or knowledge of your status as heir.
  • The procedure is free of charge.

Exceptionally and for good cause, an extension of the 3-month period may be granted upon a written and motivated request.

You are an heir and do not have all the information you need to make your choice

If the contents of the succession are uncertain or unknown, each heir can request that an inventory of the estate be drawn up. There are 2 types: the public inventory and the precautionary inventory.

 

Public inventory

If the contents of the estate are uncertain or unknown, each heir may request, within one month of the death or knowledge of heirship, that a public inventory be established. This allows the assets and liabilities of the estate to be ascertained, including the amount of any debts, by calling on any creditors by means of public notices.

The decision to make a public inventory is communicated to all the heirs. Once the inventory has been drawn up, its contents are communicated to all the heirs by the notary.

Depending on the results of the inventory, you may choose to accept the inheritance subject to public inventory. This option is open to all heirs, who can then limit their liability to the contents of the inventory. This means that only the debts listed in the inventory can be charged to the heirs who must pay them.
You always have the choice of accepting the inheritance without reservation, refusing it, or requesting its official liquidation.

The request for an inventory suspends the legal deadlines : the debts of the estate cannot be sued, and any lawsuits in progress are suspended.

Steps to request a public inventory:

  • Send your request to the court or to the Greffe universel, within one month of the death or the knowledge of your status as heir. The request must contain: your name and contact information, the name of the deceased, your relationship to the deceased or your presence in his/her will, as well as the name of a Geneva notary who will be responsible for drawing up the inventory.
  • Date and sign your request by hand.
  • After receiving the request, you will be asked to pay a deposit of Fr. 4'800.- to cover the costs of the procedure and the notary's fees. 
  • The inventory is established by a notary in Geneva of your choice. The expenses related to his/her activity are advanced by the applicant who will be reimbursed by the estate if the assets of the latter are sufficient.

Once the court has notified you of the completion of the inventory, each heir has one month to inform the Court in writing of his decision (accept it with no reservation, accept it subject to a public inventory, renounce it or request the official liquidation of the estate).

After this period and without any further action on your part, you are considered to have accepted the inheritance subject to a public inventory.

 

Precautionary Inventory

Alternatively, each heir may request the establishment of a precautionary inventory within 3 months following the death or the knowledge of the heir's status. This inventory is carried out by a notary and is based on his/her research as well as on the elements given by the heirs. In this case, there is no public notice.

The decision to draw up a precautionary inventory is communicated to all the heirs. Once the inventory has been made, its contents are also communicated to all the heirs by the notary.

Contrary to the public inventory, the precautionary inventory does not offer the possibility of limiting the heir's liability to the debts mentioned in the inventory. If you accept the estate with no reservation following the precautionary inventory, and additional debts are subsequently discovered, you will be liable for them.

Steps to request a precautionary inventory:

  • Send your request to the court or to the Greffe universel, within 3 months of the death or the knowledge of your status as heir. The request must contain: your name and contact information, the name of the deceased, your relationship to the deceased or your presence in his/her will, as well as the name of a Geneva notary who will be responsible for drawing up the inventory.
  • Date and sign your request by hand.
  • After receiving the request, you will be asked to pay a deposit of Fr. 3'800.- to cover the costs of the procedure and the notary's fees. 
  • The inventory is established by a notary in Geneva of your choice. The expenses related to his/her activity are advanced by the applicant, who will be reimbursed by the estate if the assets of the latter are sufficient.

Once the court has notified you of the completion of the inventory, each heir has 3 months to inform the Court in writing of his/her decision (accept it with no reservation, renounce it or request the official liquidation of the estate).

After this period and without any further action on your part, you are considered to have accepted the inheritance without reservation.

You are an heir and you wish to have the debts of the estate paid before recovering any balance (official liquidation)

Official liquidation is a special method of settling the inheritance. It allows for the sale of the estate's assets in order to pay the deceased's creditors, and then to give the heirs any balance.

In the case of an official liquidation, the deceased's assets remain separate from those of the heirs who are not responsible for any estate debts.

The official liquidator has a power of disposal that only he/she can exercise. This means that he/she takes possession of the estate and that the heir's rights of management and disposal are suspended during this period.

The decision to carry out an official liquidation is communicated to all the heirs.

Once the official liquidation has been accepted by the court, a liquidator is responsible for recovering all amounts owed to the estate and paying all debts. To do this, he/she is empowered to sell the estate's assets to the extent necessary. She/he is also responsible for settling any disputes, on behalf of the estate, by acting in court, if necessary.

If the estate, after payment of all possible bills and debts, is positive, the assets are divided among the heirs according to the share to which they are entitled (the share written in the will or, failing that, the legal share). If, on the other hand, the assets at disposal are not sufficient to pay all the bills and debts, the estate is liquidated by the Bankruptcy Office.

If an heir has accepted the inheritance before the official liquidation is requested, the latter is no longer possible for any of the heirs.

Steps to liquidate the estate:

  • File an official request for liquidation with the court or the Greffe universel within 3 months following the death or the knowledge of your status as heir. The request must contain: your name and contact information, the name of the deceased, your relationship to the deceased or your presence in his/her will, as well as the names of a Geneva notary and of a liquidator.
  • Date and sign your request by hand.
  • After receiving the request, you will be asked to pay a deposit of Fr. 4’800.- to cover the costs of the procedure and the notary's fees. 
  • The inventory is established by a notary and the estate is managed by a liquidator of your choice. The expenses related to their activities are deducted from the estate (or will be charged to the applicant, if the estate is not sufficient).

You are a creditor

The deceased may have outstanding bills or debts with one or more creditors (health insurance, companies, etc.).

As a creditor, you can ask the Court for the name of a contact person within the heirship in order to send any outstanding invoices directly to him/her or to the person in charge of managing the estate and thus claim the owed owed amounts.

Steps to identify the heirs of a succession:

File a petition with the Court, in the form of a letter, at any time following the announcement of the death. The petition must contain: your name and contact information, the name of the deceased, your status as a creditor.

As a creditor, you can also request the official liquidation of the estate if you have serious concerns about not being paid.

Steps to request official liquidation as a creditor:

  • File an official request for liquidation with the court or the Greffe universel, normally within 3 months of the death or the opening of the will. The petition must contain: your name and contact information, the name of the deceased, the list of outstanding claims.
  • Date and sign your request by hand.
  • After receiving the request, you will be asked to pay Fr. 4'800.- as a deposit for the costs of the procedure and the notary's fees. 
  • An inventory is drawn up by a notary and the estate is managed by a liquidator appointed by the Court. The costs related to their activity are deducted from the estate (or charged to the applicant if the estate is not sufficient).

Application forms

Contacts

Address

Address

Rue des Glacis-de-Rive 6
1207 Genève

Contact details

Probate Registry (Justice of the peace)

Opening hours
10h-13h

Greffe des successions (Justice de paix)

Case postale 3950
1211 Genève 3

Questions/answers

The Court contacts the surviving parent and asks for information about the child's assets, the amount of the child's share of the estate, and how it will be handled, to ensure that the child's interests will be safeguarded in the succession. The Court will appoint a deputy if it believes that the surviving parent may be endangering the child's property.

If the child has no legal representative following the death of the parent who had exclusive parental responsibility, a guardian is provisionally appointed for the time necessary for the Court to consider whether parental responsibility can be transferred to the other parent or whether a relative can assume guardianship.

The guardian is responsible for the maintenance and education of the child and for this purpose exercises the same rights as the parents, under the supervision of the court to which he/she is accountable.

The executor manages the succession in place of the heirs and prepares the division of the estate among the heirs. He/she can therefore make any decision necessary to accomplish his/her mission which consists of ensuring that the deceased's last wishes are respected.

The executor, designated by the deceased in his/her will, may be a relative.

The executor may resign at any time by submitting his/her resignation to the Court.

To obtain a certificate of inheritance or for any questions related to this document, you must contact a notary in Geneva. The Court is not competent to issue certificates of inheritance.

No, each heir can request a public inventory individually. The other heirs will be informed of the decision to draw up the public inventory. They will be summoned by the notary for signature. Only one inventory will be drawn up.

If you discover or have custody of testamentary dispositions, you must immediately transmit them to the Court, even if they appear to be invalid or revoked.

The Court (or the notary in the case of wills are deposited with him/her) then officially communicates the testamentary dispositions to the persons mentioned in the will.

After the death, it is the heirs who become, together, holders of the lease contract and debtors of the rent, unless they renounce the estate (renunciation).

In law, the heir who pays the rent or terminates the lease is considered to have accepted the estate, including its potential debts. He/she is therefore no longer entitled to renounce the estate.

As the heir, it is your responsibility to notify the agency and other creditors about the deceased. It is also your responsibility to pay any outstanding bills, unless you intend to disclaim the estate. If all the heirs have disclaimed the estate, the Cantonal Bankruptcy Office will take care of the payment of the outstanding bills.

There are 2 main types of wills, the holographic will (entirely handwritten, dated and signed) and the public will (made before a notary). Both of which have the same value.

The oral will (declared before 2 witnesses when one is in imminent danger of death or in the impossibility of writing a will and which must be announced immediately to the Court) is exceptional, although it has the same value as the 2 others.

If several people wish to make a will together, they must do so through a notary, in the form of a contract of succession.

The Court cannot provide any legal advice. It is up to you to contact a notary, a lawyer or a legal advice service, if you wish to be assisted in preparing your succession.

As long as the heir has not disclaimed the succession (renunciation), he/she takes the place of the deceased and assumes his/her debts on his behalf. She/he may therefore be subject to notices and debt collection proceedings.

You can get advice from a notary, a lawyer or a legal advice service if you need it.

guide is at your disposal, which contains information and report models useful for the execution of the mandate.

Unlike court-appointed agents, the executor is appointed by the deceased in his/her will. Therefore, he/she is not mandated by the court.

The executor manages the estate on behalf of the heirs and prepares the division among the heirs. He/she may make any decision necessary to carry out his/her mission, which involves ensuring that the deceased's last wishes are respected.

The remuneration of the executor is determined by agreement between him/her and the heirs. In the event of a dispute, the Tribunal de première instance must be consulted to determine the remuneration. This remuneration is deducted from the estate's assets.

The court supervises the activity of the executor only on complaint. The executor is accountable to the heirs and not to the court.

The executor's duties end automatically when the division of the estate is complete. The executor may also resign at any time by applying to the court.

The executor is liable for any damage caused during the exercise of the mandate. In this case, the heirs may approach the executor directly or take legal action against him/her.

When a person declares his/her will just before his/her death and when he/she is unable to write his/her will, he/she must do so to 2 neutral persons, who act as witnesses. This is called an oral will.

You must be accompanied by a second person so that the last wishes can be considered as oral will.

The will must then be immediately written down and signed by the 2 witnesses, mentioning the complete date and place where the person dictated the will. This document must be submitted to the court immediately.

The validity of this oral will is limited in time: if the person does not die and recovers the capacity to write a will, he/she will have to initiate steps to assert his/her will.

The first step in finding out who the heirs are is to request an inheritance certificate from a notary in Geneva.

If it is likely that other heirs exist but cannot be easily found, the Court, upon request of an heir, a creditor, a notary or of its own initiative, appoints an official estate administrator whose first task will be to obtain the complete list of heirs.

If the deceased person has mentioned you in his/her will, you will receive a letter from a notary or the Court telling you what the deceased wanted to leave you and what steps to take.

If you have moved recently or do not live in Switzerland, you can write to the court to inform it of your situation and ask if you are among the deceased's heirs.

For information on inheritance tax, you should contact the Cantonal tax Authorities (AFC).

By having not disclaimed the inheritance within the legal time limit, it is considered that you have accepted it without reservation. You should contact a notary, a lawyer or a legal advice service to find out how to proceed.

In some exceptional cases, the Court may grant a new delay. This requires a written request to the Court stating the extraordinary reasons that prevented you from renouncing within the legal time limit (application for a new delay).

Yes, if a heir wishes to accept the inheritance without reservation during the official liquidation, the latter is immediately halted.

You must contact the court as soon as possible to communicate your decision to accept the inheritance. You will then immediately become the owner of the estate's property and a debtor for its debts.

Before the end of the 3 month period following the death or the knowledge of your status as heir, you must send a written request to the court explaining the situation in detail.

The Court may grant you an extension of the deadline (application for extension of deadline).
During this time, however, you are still liable for the debts of the estate.

See also this question

 

Yes, you can withdraw your will at any time upon presentation of an identity card at the court desk.

If you are aware of a person who has died without family or a will, you should notify the Court immediately, making sure to mention the known status of his/her assets and debts, so that the estate can be placed under ex officio administration.

It will then be the administrator's responsibility to pay any outstanding bills, liquidate or store the contents of the home and notify creditors. If the liabilities exceed the assets, the estate is liquidated by the Cantonal bankruptcy Office.

The remuneration of deputies and guardians is not subjected to VAT.

The remuneration of all other appointees is subjected to VAT and included in the court's tax decision.

See also

Tribunal de protection de l'adulte et de l'enfant

The Tribunal de protection de l'adulte et de l'enfant ensures the protection of people throughout their lives, from childhood to adulthood up to their succession. It intervenes when no satisfactory solution has been found for the person concerned within the family, with relatives or any other institution that can provide assistance.

Child protection

The child protection law intervenes when parental rights need to be set or to protect the child when his/her development is endangered.

Adult protection

The adult protection law intervenes when the interests or the well-being of the adult person are in danger.