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Wills for ex-pats

The mountain life

Many people move to Switzerland from the UK, whether temporarily or permanently, for a variety of reasons. It could be a career opportunity, family ties, retirement, or even just a thirst for the mountain life. Whatever the reason, it is important that after making the move, British expats look again at their estate planning and, in particular, to the most basic but important of estate planning documents, their will.

The importance of a will

Wills allow you to plan for your future. If you do not make a will, all the property in your estate will be distributed in accordance with standard rules, by people who you have not chosen for the role. Your family may find themselves with an administra­tive mess at a very difficult time and your property may not be distributed in the manner you would wish. There may also be tax consequences which could be avoided with careful planning.

Conflict of laws

If you are British but living in Switzerland, the succession and tax laws of both countries may compete for your estate, with potentially undesirable consequences. Swiss law may apply to your estate. Unlike the UK, Switzerland has forced heirship rules under which any property you own is passed in a pre-determined manner on your death.

The solution

If you are a British citizen resident in Switzerland, then Swiss law entitles you to elect for your home succession law to apply, potentially giving you complete testamentary freedom and certainly avoiding the Swiss forced heirship rules. To do this you need a will.

Tax efficiency

If you are originally from the UK or have spent a significant amount of time there, your entire worldwide estate may be liable to UK inheritance tax, regardless of your place of residence at death. At the same time, as a resident of Switzerland, your canton may also seek to tax your estate. To remedy this conflict, there is a double tax treaty between the countries which needs to be carefully considered when drafting your will, to ensure the best possible outcome for your family and heirs.

Our Geneva office provides wills for British ex-pats and can assist with any other international tax and estate planning queries you may have.

We also advise families and personal representatives on all issues relating to the probate of an estate, with particular expertise in those with an international element.

Additional information