Every death is a challenge for the relatives, but if the death occurs abroad, there are additional challenges. Many questions arise: How can I make provisions in advance, what do my relatives have to consider, who will help in the event of death abroad? By making prudent provisions for your own death, you can relieve the burden on your relatives immensely.
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Check advance directives and powers of attorney
Even when you are abroad, you want to be sure that in an emergency your relatives will receive information about your state of health or will be able to make decisions for you if you are unable to do so yourself. Although a 2000 Hague Convention on the International Protection of Adults also contains a provision that a power of representation (for example, an advance directive or power of attorney) to be exercised if the adult is unable to look after his or her own interests is valid in all Contracting States if it was validly concluded in the State in which the person had his or her habitual residence when it was concluded, the manner in which such a power of representation is exercised is determined by the law of the State in which it is exercised. The rules on how and under what circumstances you can activate such power of representation vary widely. Especially if you move your residence abroad, it is advisable to also have advance directives and powers of attorney reviewed and adapted to the customs in the country. Also note that there are very different rules on the extent to which, for example, one spouse may make decisions for the other without a power of attorney.
Adapt wills – and be careful with inheritance contracts
If you move to another country, you should also have your will or inheritance contract checked by a specialist there. In principle, Switzerland assumes that the law of your country of residence applies. The first thing to do is to find out what the law in your new country of residence provides. In some cases, countries refer to the law of the home country, in which case Swiss law still applies – or it is assumed that national law only applies to assets located in the country of residence. Other legal systems, on the other hand – including that of Switzerland – link to the country of residence, but in some cases give the right to make a (limited) choice of law and jurisdiction. In these cases, you can stipulate in your will that your home country’s law, i.e. the law of Switzerland, will apply.
In addition, each country has its own rules on how a will or contract of inheritance can be validly drafted. Be careful: Some countries do not recognise a contract of inheritance and consider such a contract to be invalid. So make sure that your last will and testament is written in such a way that it is valid in your new home country. Furthermore, different rules apply, for example, as to who inherits if there is no valid will and what may be regulated in a will.
From a Swiss perspective, there are no fixed rules about where a will must be kept. Just make sure it is found at the right time. Other countries, however, have an official place where wills are deposited.
If you live abroad, and especially if your assets are in different countries, then it makes sense to appoint an executor who is local and can communicate directly with the relevant authorities.
Unfortunately, you never have the right to choose in one area: inheritance taxes. Depending on the country, these can be very expensive and early estate planning is highly advisable.
In the event of death
If a Swiss citizen dies while travelling abroad and is still resident in Switzerland, the FDFA will inform the next of kin. If you are de-registered in Switzerland, the local authorities will take care of this, or you must make your own arrangements to ensure that your relatives are informed, for example by giving friends or a trusted person a list of persons to be notified.
Repatriation to Switzerland
Let your relatives know where and how you want to be buried. There are travel insurance policies that also cover repatriation to Switzerland in the event of death. Let your relatives know if you have such insurance. In case of doubt, the consulate will also help you clarify whether insurance exists in Switzerland. If your place of residence is abroad, you can contact a funeral home in advance, especially if you want to be buried in Switzerland.
There are always country-specific regulations for repatriation. For example, in some cases an urn may only be handed over to a funeral home. As a rule, you need a translated death certificate in any case. If there are no restrictions, the ashes can be sent by post (e.g. DHL) or a relative can take them with him or her on the plane. In this case, it is recommended to inform the airline. Most urns or ash bags can be taken in hand luggage as long as they are well sealed and can still be checked with X-rays, which is not possible with certain metal urns. A good funeral home can inform you about the various options and conditions.
If relatives reach their limits when organising the burial abroad or repatriation, the FDFA can help. If the deceased person is resident in Switzerland, the services of the FDFA are free of charge. If the deceased person is resident abroad, however, fees will be charged.
Where to find support
We at Soliswiss are also there for your relatives in word and deed during this difficult time. If you need support in the process, please contact us. At the DFA you will find a helpful document (german).
We are also happy to share the very helpful information sheet – Infoblatt – Todesfall auf den kanarischen Inseln (in german) prepared by Markus Thomas, Delegate of the Council of the Swiss Abroad Spain.