Smoothing: Reduce Volatility and Increase Growth
Investment Smoothing is a process used in pension fund accounting by which unusually high returns in a given year are spread over a multi-year period. By taking an average of all the different values, smoothing can deliver a constant figure for shorter time periods.
Instead of simply sharing out what the fund makes or loses each year, a smoothed growth fund aims to even out some of the variations in performance. This process is what we call ‘smoothing’.
How Smoothing Mitigates Volatility
The logic behind smoothing is that it lowers the volatility of profit and loss credit from pension fund returns. During positive markets, some profits are retained by the underlying fund manager as reserves to be paid out during market downturns. This process dampens the volatility typically seen when investing in other types of long term mutual funds.
Smoothing from the Pru
The PruFund funds are designed to deliver smoothed growth by investing in many different investment areas. By investing in a range of assets the fund is less exposed to significant changes in the values of individual assets.
Prudential’s investment specialists will constantly look for the best opportunities for growth within a wide range of investment areas. Prudential apply a unique smoothing process to these funds to provide a more stable return, than if you were directly exposed to daily changes in the fund’s performance.
Prudential Smoothing: Reduce investment volatility, but keep the potential for growth.
Inheritance Tax in Italy
You may not be aware but from an Inheritance tax point of view, Italy is actually considered a bit of a fiscal paradise (after you have picked yourself up off the floor because I just called Italy a ‘fiscal paradise’, you might want to read on). If your estate or part of it is likely to be subject to Italian Inheritance Tax on your death then the latest developments could interest you.
Italian Inheritance tax law dates back to the Napoleonic period which requires parents, on death, to leave a major proportion of their wealth to their children instead of just their spouse.
At the moment Italy’s Inheritance tax works as follows:
* If the estate is passed to your spouse or relatives in a direct line (i.e children) then they are required to pay 4% on the value of the inheritance that exceeds € 1million.
* Brothers and sisters must pay 6% with an allowance of €100,000
* Other relatives must pay 8% but without any allowance.
Despite Italy having approximately 1.5 million people who are subject to Inheritance tax each year with a combined value of approximately €56 billion, the tax collection is relatively small due to the high allowances and also the fact that that ‘successione’ for a property is based on the catastale value, not the market value.
WHAT ARE THE PROPOSED CHANGES?
Italy, like most other countries, is in desperate need of cash and they naturally see inheritance tax as a way of increasing tax revenues. In addition, the EU is encouraging Italy to review the present system to bring it into line with other, ‘less financially rewarding’, European countries.
The ideas, which are just ideas at this stage, are as follows:
* For spouse and direct line relatives, to increase the taxable rate to 5%. But, reduce the non-taxable allowance from €1 million to €200,000.
* Whilst the taxable rate will rise from 6 to 8% for brothers and sisters, and the allowance will reduce to between €50,000 and €100,000.
* The rates for other relatives will likely increase to 8% without any allowance.
This means that a lot of people will now be caught in the Italian Inheritance tax trap whereas previously they might not have been. Although, it should be said, the rates are still quite low.
However, as part of any inheritance tax /succession planning that you may undertake you may want to look at ways in which you can hold any asset, in a more tax efficient way. The polizza assicurativa (or Life Assurance Bond) meets exactly that criteria.
Any money that you hold in one of these tax efficient accounts is completely free from Italian Inheritance tax and is kept outside of the estate when the value is calculated. The not so good news is that if the majority of your estate is in your property, unfortunately, this cannot be placed inside the tax protective structure. However any other invested/investable assets can be, generally, from €50,000 upwards.
One of the great advantages is that there is no upper limit to contributions. You can protect a large part of your estate from Italian Inheritance tax easily and with maximum flexibility to access the capital and any income from it during your lifetime. The other big advantage is that the monies (whilst held inside the account) are not subject to Italian income and capital gains tax.
Risk – Simply a Box of Chocolates?
What is financial risk, and is it all down to chance?
Whether you are investing for your retirement or for more immediate financial needs, there are three factors that could keep you from achieving your goals: inflation, taxes, and risk. It is easy to plan for inflation and to reduce taxes, but risk is another matter as it is so unpredictable.
Types of financial risk to watch out for include:
Investment Specific Risk:
Risk that affects a very small number of assets.
Risk of one country’s foreign policy unduly influencing or upsetting domestic political and social stability in another country or region.
Risk that a borrower will default on any type of debt by failing to make required payments.
Interest Rate Risk:
Risk that arises for bond owners from fluctuating interest rates. How much interest rate risk a bond has depends on how sensitive its price is to interest rate changes in the market.
The possibility that the value of assets or income will decrease as inflation shrinks the purchasing power of a currency.
Risk that stems from the changes in the valuation of currency exchanges. Fluctuations result from unpredictable gains and losses incurred when profits from foreign investments are converted from foreign currencies.
Risk of a change of price of a portfolio as a result of changes in the volatility of a risk factor. Usually applies to portfolios of derivatives instruments, where volatility is a major influencer of prices.
Risk that a given security or asset cannot be traded quickly enough in the market to prevent a loss (or make the required profit).
Allocation of proportional risk to all parties to a contract, usually through a risk premium.
The use of various financial instruments or borrowed capital, such as margin, to increase the potential return of an investment.
The risk to each party of a contract that the counterparty will not live up to its contractual obligations.
Overcoming Risk: Prudential & Smoothing
Prudential Multi-Asset funds work by spreading your money across a number of different types of assets. Funds are designed to deliver smoothed growth through a number of investment options, such as company shares, fixed interest bonds, cash and property, balancing the risk being taken. So if one asset is falling in value, another may be increasing.
Risk: Simply a Box of Chocolates?
Understanding the importance of risk is a central pillar of financial planning. Risk can be measured and assessed; it can be managed. Learning how to do this is an invaluable aspect of becoming a successful investor.
Risk may be uncertain but it’s no box of chocolates. If you prepare for the uncertainty – do your research and seek relevant and informed advice – you can be fairly confident of what you’re going to get. It’s not all down to chance.
Is your wealth keeping up with inflation
How to Create a Great Financial plan for your life
Part 2. Is your wealth keeping up with inflation, especially with interest rates below zero?
Is your money in the bank?
This is a continuing series aimed to provide you with some thoughts, ideas and strategies when considering and planning for your financial future.
In the second part of this original series about “How to Create a Great Financial Plan for your life” let’s look at another fundamental planning (and savings) principle: How will inflation affect me, and how will my savings look after me in the future?
Sooner or later we do have to consider tomorrow: what happens in the future when perhaps we are not working and our income is not what it used to be?
In the first article of this series I wrote about the risk of relying on the State or government pension to fulfil your future income and cash lump sum needs.
A good adviser will suggest that you do not put all your eggs in one basket when saving and planning for the future.
Aside from pension plans, most of us realise that we need to keep a level of savings in reserve, and preferably this is a growing reserve, within a longer term financial plan.
Everyone knows that saving money after income taxes, state social charges and living expenses, is not an easy thing to accomplish. However what many people do not realise is that unless your hard-earned money is invested wisely, that savings reserve could in fact be going backwards, and literally declining in value, especially when compared to the current inflation rate.
What is inflation and the inflation rate?
Very generally, the definition of inflation is “A rise in the general level of prices of goods and services in an economy over a period of time.” When prices rise, your Euro/dollar/pound/Lire can buy fewer goods and services.
Inflation acts like erosion, reducing the buying power of your money, over time.
Consequently, you have lost some of your buying power. It just doesn’t feel like a loss because you don’t see the loss when looking at your bank balance.
If someone you knew kept $50,000 in cash hidden away for 15 years, and the average inflation rate over that time was 5% per year: then after 15 years the purchasing vaue of that money would be equal to approximately $23,160 – or in other words after 15 years you can only buy goods or services worth $23,160.
In the short-term a bank is a good place for your money. However when considering your needs for retirement or for the next five years or so, it will pay to consider where in fact you are choosing to save your money, and hopefully, attempting to grow your money (or at least keep pace with inflation).
Banks will pay you interest, however this income is taxed directly in your hands and may not keep pace with inflation whatsoever.
In June and September this year, the European Central Bank (ECB) has cut deposit interest rates from zero, to negative 0.2% (or -0.2%). This means that Italian banks (and all European banks) have to pay the ECB to hold their money! This reflects a determined plan by the ECB to encourage lending and bank investment within the economy, and to encourage investors in Europe to invest in the wider economy!
It also means that banks have little or no incentive to pay interest on cash deposited with them by their customers. Your bank statements will be telling you this story.
Accepting Risk to earn a return on your money
It is widely recognised that a key to all investing is to diversify your risk.
Diversification or by holding a variety of asset classes that maintain differing levels of risk within those asset classes, you can spread your risk in a broad fashion, such that volatile movements or poor performance in one area, has a much reduced or negligible impact on your overall portfolio or wealth.
Uncertainty and volatility are normal for investment markets. However your first strategy to deal with such volatility is effective diversification. Just like keeping all your savings in the bank is not diversified, neither is keeping 100% of your money in property, or in shares.
In this low interest rate environment, commentators widely recognise that investors have to make the decision: do they simply continue to hold cash on deposit and accept the cost involved, or do they take on some additional risk to earn a return?
This is indeed a dilemma in particular for risk-averse investors, when at present low risk investments other than cash may not be returning attractive or high levels of income or capital growth – this is normal however, since low risk investment cannot expect to earn high rates of return. This is the risk-return trade-off at play. A higher level of risk is rewarded with higher rates of return. Low levels of risk produce relatively lower levels of return.
However we can be more confident that investing in assets other than cash has a much greater prospect of generating returns in this environment – considering that interest rates at the ECB are negative!
In a future article we will look at the various asset classes and consider how you can use them to your advantage as an investor today.
Looking forward to 2015
The end of the year is always a good time for reflection and this year we have had much to think about for our clients. However, as well as managing current financial risks for our clients, we are also forward looking. So I thought it would be a good time to do a quick review of some of the things that are on the horizon for 2015.
The UK Pensions Reform is big and we now have a reasonable amount of certainty of the changes taking place in April and it is unlikely that there will be any more changes of substance between now and then. The reform brings more flexibility, which is good, but the reality is that for many, the taxation outcome will be a deterrent against fully cashing in pension pots. This is likely to be even more so in France, where it is not just the personal tax and possible social contributions that are an issue, but also whatever you have left of the pot will then be taken into account in valuing your assets for wealth tax, as well as being potentially liable for French inheritance taxes.
The EU Succession Rules will come into effect in August. While the EU thinking behind this is good, i.e. to come up with a common EU-wide system to deal with cross-border succession, the practical effects will still have issues. The biggest issue for French residents is, of course, French inheritance taxes. Therefore, it may not necessarily be the case that the already tried and tested French ways of protecting the survivor and keeping the potential inheritance taxes low for your beneficiaries should be given up in favour of selecting the inheritance rules of your country of nationality. More information on the ‘French way’ can be found in my article at www.spectrum-ifa.com/inheritance-planning-in-france/ and on the EU Succession Regulations at www.spectrum-ifa.com/eu-succession-regulations-the-perfect-solution/
There is the UK General Election in May and who knows whether or not that will actually be followed at some point by a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU. Nor do we know what the outcome of such a referendum would be and so there is really no point in speculating, at this stage.
For UK non-residents, we are expecting the introduction of UK capital gains tax on gains arising from UK property sales from April, subject to there not being any changes in the next budget. We had also expected that non-residents would lose their UK personal allowance entitlement for income arising in the UK, but we now know that this will not happen next year. The Autumn Statement confirmed that it is a complicated issue and if there are to be any changes in the future, these will not take place before 2017. Of course, there could be a change in government and so it might be back on the agenda sooner!
We will also have the usual round of French tax changes, although this year the expected changes are much less extensive than in previous years. The French budget is still winding its way through the parliamentary process and I will provide an update on this next month.
Turning to investment markets, my personal opinion is that the main factor that will have an impact in 2015 is central bank monetary policy. Whether this results in tighter or looser policy from one country to another, remains to be seen. What is clear is that the prospect of deflation in the Eurozone remains a real threat and not only needs to be stopped, but also needs to be turned around with the aim of eventually reaching the target of being at or just below 2%. Other central banks around the world have a similar target and in areas where recovery is clearly underway, the rate of price inflation and wage inflation also needs to increase before we are likely to see the start or interest rate movements in the right direction.
Last but not least, with effect from 1st January 2015, under the terms of the EU Directive on administrative cooperation in the field of direct taxation, there will be automatic exchange of information between the tax authorities of Member States for five categories of income and capital. These include income from employment, director’s fees, life insurance products, pensions and ownership of and income from immoveable property. The Directive also provides for a possible extension of this list to dividends, capital gains and royalties.
The above outline is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute advice or a recommendation from The Spectrum IFA Group to take any particular action on the subject of investment of financial assets or on the mitigation of taxes.
If you are affected by any of the above and would like to have a confidential discussion about your situation or any other aspect of financial planning, please contact me using the details or form below.
Spanish Inheritance Tax update
The EEC ruled in September 2014 that these discriminate non-residents.
The worldwide estate of British expatriates who are UK domiciles are liable to UK inheritance tax on death, as well as being liable to Spanish succession tax on chargeable Spanish assets, e.g. house, bank account etc.
Spanish Succession tax rates vary from 7.65% to 34%. The tax liability is subject to multipliers based on the pre-existing wealth of the recipient, which can take the highest effective rate of tax to just below 82%. Then, Inheritance Tax in the UK is payable on assets above £325,000 at a rate of 40%.
There is no Double Taxation Agreement on inheritance Tax between Spain and the UK although if tax is paid in one jurisdiction it is not usual that it has to be paid yet again. However, the news is that EEC rules state that Spain should not discriminate between resident and non-resident. This is hoped to come into force by 2016 which is favourable for residents of the Balearics.
There has not been any formal approval by Spain but proposals are to treat those non-Spanish tax residents living in the European Union (EU) or the European Economic Area (EEA) as if they lived in one of the autonomous regions of Spain where tax rates tend to be heavily discounted such as here in the Balearics. There is currently 99% reduction so the effective rate is just 1%. The region will be determined by where you have spent most time in the last five years or by where the majority of your Spanish assets are situated if you live outside Spain.
Gifts outside the EU or EEA to a Spanish resident could be subject to the rules of the autonomous region where the recipient has his/her residency.
Although the changes have not yet been formally approved, it seems some lawyers are now submitting tax returns on the basis that the qualifying non-resident will receive the tax advantages of the relevant autonomous region.
This will mean that, for example, children living outside Spain, inheriting from parents in Spain, could no longer have the much higher (generally) “National” Spanish taxes to pay. Parents may be able to gift property to their children without necessarily needing to make expensive tax avoidable arrangements.
This would be a tremendous advantage to many UK expatriates living here in Menorca. Before you die you need to consider all aspects of your tax situation. In addition to ensuring your assets can pass down easily to your beneficiaries when the time comes, your income and capital gains tax need to be checked for efficiency whilst you are alive. Little point in worrying about what happens when you die if you are left with little to pass to your beneficiaries in the end!
The details are based on The Spectrum Group’s understanding of current legislation and may be subject to change. No liability can be accepted for any change of interpretation or practice relating to any tax or legislative measure or the introduction of any new measures that may affect this information.
The Spectrum IFA Group suggest you take personal advice on how the new rules will affect you.
Who can you trust with your money?
During a recent meeting with a client we were discussing two topics; one being the continual closing down of offshore bank accounts and the other being the effect that the financial crisis has had on people and who they can trust with their finances. As they are inter-related I thought I would share my views.
Over the last few weeks one large Bank has been writing to most of their savers informing them that they need to hold a balance of at least £100,000 in their bank accounts or the account will be closed. This is part of a growing trend as banks undergo “strategic review”, resulting in many expats being forced to close their offshore accounts.
Bearing in mind that banks are paying minimal rates of interest, it seems unfair to expect someone to deposit £100,000 just for the privilege of holding a bank account when they receive next to no interest in return. On top of this, the interest is then taxable which must be declared on your “declaracion de la renta” (Spanish tax return) further reducing the true rate you receive.
There are now several insurance companies that offer Spanish Approved investment policies in which you can choose what level of risk you wish to take (low, medium or high) but where the income receives favourable tax treatment. Many people invest in banks because they feel they do not incur risk. This view is rapidly changing as a major risk to the money nowadays is inflation.
And so my client then went onto say that deciding on where to move their money is a major challenge. People don’t know who to trust these days.
A report by the Financial Times says: “Much damage has been caused by the breakdown in trust that took place in the wake of the financial crisis. Although financial advisers played little part in causing the crisis, it is clear that their relationships with customers have not escaped the fall-out”. This is a concern I respect which in turn means we as advisers must be aware. The report recently suggests the following:
i) An Adviser now needs to gain a truly granular understanding of the client’s needs and expectations. To really regain trust, advisers will need to gain much more granular insight such as client’s goals, aspirations, investment behaviour and expectation of service.
ii) Guiding and coaching will be important new skills for many advisers and asset managers to learn. Advisers should seek a more holistic perspective on the investor.
iii) Communication is vital but it needs to be tailored and relevant. Clients do not want to be bombarded with generic information. They want insight that they feel is relevant to their situation and demonstrates to them that their personal needs are being met.
The world of a Financial Adviser never stays the same, it is a constantly changing world which is what makes my work both interesting and very satisfying.
With care YOU prosper
I’m getting an increasing number of calls from expats based here in France who are very worried and sometimes completely dismayed by the financial advice they have received elsewhere. Worried by the fact that their investments have decreased in value, and dismayed when they realise that they cannot even withdraw their money or cancel their polices, as parts of the investment are now in funds that have been suspended (that is no-one can either buy them or sell them).
Now I’m not looking to get into any legal wrangle with the company concerned, and it is only one company, but I think this is a suitable time to flag up what is happening in the hope that some of you will avoid falling into this situation in future. I will also add that I am prepared to ‘adopt’ clients in this situation, in order to ensure as fruitful an outcome for the client as possible.
What is happening is not illegal, but it could certainly be regarded as unethical. The clients concerned have either unwittingly or deliberately chosen to put their faith in an adviser who is not regulated in France. This is not illegal, because we are all part of the wonderful organisation that is Europe, and that frees Europeans to ply their trade in other countries within the Euro block. That freedom of trade is not, however, backed up by a freedom of regulation. If you live in France and have cause to complain about advice you have received, the French regulator will show no interest in your case if the adviser is not in his jurisdiction. You will be guided to seek help from the regulator in the country where the adviser is based, and hopefully regulated. Good luck.
There are two main problems that I am seeing at present. The first relates to the quality of funds in which the clients are invested. At The Spectrum IFA Group we have an investment team that spend many hours evaluating hundreds, if not thousands, of funds and produce a recommended list for clients to invest in. There are of course hundreds of thousands of funds available, and we can’t look at them all, so we do allow our clients to choose their own investments if they wish, thereby ignoring our recommendations. All we ask, in this instance, is that you sign a form to accept that the investment was your choice. There are many good funds out there, but there are also some bad ones. All of the (now) clients who have suffered in this way have been put into a single asset class which has had a disastrous time in the past eighteen months. Needless to say, none of the funds involved are on our recommended list.
The second issue centres on a specific type of investment called a structured note. These are often complex derivative products, and the type of note that I am now seeing regularly, certainly falls into that category. So much so, that the product notes that accompany the investment clearly state that this is only for seasoned professional investors, who are willing to accept the potential for serious loss of capital. None of the people I’m taking to fall into that category. The structured note is an interesting concept, and not all of them are overly complicated. You may have seen me write about such a note in the past, and you may have seen such a product at our seminars, offering an excellent 12 month fixed deposit rate alongside a five year deposit where the reward is linked to the performance of the stock exchange index. Not exactly ‘Janet and John’ stuff, but I like to think that I can explain it completely to my clients. And I don’t use it unless I’m completely sure that the client also understands it. I don’t understand the notes I’m seeing recently, and I’m sure the client doesn’t either.
So why sell them? Simply because the companies that make up these products factor in an element of commission to the brokerage that sells the note to the end user, the client. Now I don’t know how closely you look at small print when you read articles from me or Daphne, but if you look at the bottom of this article you will see reference to our client charter at www.spectrum-ifa.com/spectrum-ifa-client-charter
If you have read the charter, or are just about to do so, you will see or have seen this:
Some investment funds or products within an Insurance policy may generate an additional initial commission. If this is the case, we undertake to rebate this commission to you (in full) by way of increased allocation.
Strangely (not), none of the new clients I’m speaking to seem to have benefitted from this principle. It seems clear to me that funds are being pedalled for the advisers benefit, not the clients. This is a very dangerous practice.
I must stress that no laws have been broken here, and no fraud has taken place. I sell a simple structured note, but I pass on the commission. I even have clients who are invested in the struggling asset class that we have been talking about, but only by their own choice, and for many months now that has been contra to our advice.
Be safe – use locally produced goods, and that includes financial advice.
If you have any questions on this, or any other subject, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
Investments and investment risk
As I am writing this article, the hot topic of the moment is of course the Scottish Referendum on Independence. The polls are swinging from one direction to the other, but only by a small margin between the ‘yes’ and the ‘no’ camps. The final result will most likely be very close.
Even the Queen has uncharacteristically got a little involved in the politics, by expressing her hope to a well-wisher in Scotland that people will think very carefully about the future. Whatever the result of the referendum, it is clear that the United Kingdom will change.
What will happen to investment markets if Scotland votes yes? Well the wider world outside of Scotland seems to have woken up to what is actually happening in Scotland. Sterling has weakened amidst the uncertainty of the outcome, but beyond this, I am not bold enough to forecast any further effect on markets. Like any other investment risk, it needs to be managed.
On this subject, The Spectrum IFA Group has produced a Guide to Investment Risk. This has been written in plain, no nonsense, down-to-earth English and covers a range of assets classes and strategies. The individual articles included in the Guide can be found on our website at: www.spectrum-ifa.com/spectrums-guide-to-investment-risk/
Alternatively, if you would like to receive a full copy of this Guide, please contact me.
We are also taking bookings for our Autumn client seminar – “Le Tour de Finance – Bringing Experts to Expats”. Our industry experts will be presenting updates and outlooks on a broad range of subjects, including:
- Financial Markets
- Assurance Vie
- Structured Investments
- French Tax issues
- Currency Exchange
Places for our seminars are limited and must be reserved, in advance. So if you would like to attend the event, please contact me as soon as possible. The date for the local seminar is
Friday, 10th October 2014 at the Domaine Gayda, 11300 Brugairolles.
Alternatively, if you are reading this further afield, you may be interested in attending one of our other events:
- Wednesday, 8th October – St Endréol, 83920, La Motte, the Var.
- Thursday, 9th October – Chateau La Coste, 13610, Le Puy-Sainte-Réparade.
For full details of all venues can be found on our website at www.spectrum-ifa.com/seminars
If you cannot attend one of our seminars and you would anyway like to have a confidential discussion about any aspect of financial and/or inheritance planning, please contact me either by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone on 04 68 20 30 17.
The above outline is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute advice or a recommendation from The Spectrum IFA Group to take any particular action on the subject of investment of financial assets or on the mitigation of taxes.
The Spectrum IFA Group advisers do not charge any fees directly to clients for their time or for advice given, as can be seen from our Client Charter at www.spectrum-ifa.com/spectrum-ifa-client-charter
Making a Will in Switzerland
Wills in Switzerland
As a general rule, the Estate of anyone residing in Switzerland is governed by Swiss material law, especially by the relevant provisions of the Swiss Civil Code, which definitely apply in the absence of a Will, notwithstanding the deceased’s citizenship, personal status or religion.
Swiss law, which was influenced by the Napoleonic Code, provides for various solutions, either mandatory or optional, and includes the so-called rules of “forced heirship” – according to which some heirs (the spouse, the children and, in some cases, the parents of the deceased) are in any event entitled to a minimum portion of the Estate (similar rules apply in most countries on the continent and in Scotland).
Choice of Law
According to the Swiss Federal Law on Private International Law, foreign residents in Switzerland may, by making a Will, direct that their Estate be governed by the law of their country of origin and, thus, avoid all or some of the rules set by Swiss law.
This choice of law (that is not permitted in the event of double citizenship including Swiss citizenship) does not affect the jurisdiction of the Swiss authorities and, depending on the deceased’s Canton of residence, inheritance tax must still be paid in Switzerland (taking into consideration the deceased’s Estate on a worldwide basis).
As regards American citizens, it may be wise to specify the law of the relevant US State (with which they have some connections, e.g. California), while Brits should refer to “English law” (or “Scottish law” for the Scots) rather than UK or British law since it does not exist as such.
Making a Will
If made in Switzerland, the Will must have the form prescribed by Swiss law. As a rule, it must either be entirely handwritten, dated and signed by the “Testator”, or made before a Swiss Notary Public (where the Will is actually drafted by the Notary and signed by the Testator in the presence of two witnesses who are often the Notary’s assistants).
Typed Wills or so-called “joint” Wills (one single Will made by two people) are prohibited and void.
Handwritten Wills may be drafted in any language, while Wills made before a Notary Public are usually in the local official language (i.e. in French in the French-speaking area of Switzerland, such as Geneva or Vaud).
Although it is not legally required in Switzerland, when a handwritten Will may predictably need, at some point, to be proven in the US, it is worth asking two witnesses to certify the Will at the time it is signed by the Testator, as this would be expected by a US probate Court.
Making a Will before a Notary Public is especially advisable when the mental capacity of the person making the Will could later be questioned (due to illness, age, potential influence of other people, etc.).
Usually, Wills made with the assistance of a Notary Public are kept by the latter who must send them to the competent local Court or authority upon the testators’ death. When Wills are made privately, it is wise to leave them in some place where they will be found easily, but they can be lost or destroyed. It goes without saying that any Will may, at the Testator’s discretion, be changed, amended, replaced or cancelled at any time by their authors and mere photocopies are not effective.
Appointment of an Executor
Under Swiss law, when there is no Will, the Estate is usually handled by the heirs (who must act jointly).
An Executor (or more than one) may however be appointed by Will and, upon the Testator’s death, will be required by the competent local Court (the Judge of the Peace in Geneva and Vaud) to accept this mission. The Will may include some specific instructions to the Executor who is generally entitled to deal with the Estate without any restriction.
The appointment of an Executor in a Will (and a possible Successor Executor – contingent in the event of the death or incapacity of the first one) is recommended when some assets are held abroad (especially in the US, in the UK or in other common law jurisdictions), when some of the heirs are under 18 years of age or when the situation may prove complex for some other reasons.
Where no Executor was appointed, the local Court may, under some circumstances, appoint an Administrator to take care of the Estate and to protect the heirs’ interests, especially if they are not all known.
Anyone finding a deceased’s Will in Switzerland must send it to the local authorities. Probate proceedings include the notification of a copy of the Will to all the heirs and beneficiaries and, depending on the circumstances, to any relatives possibly entitled to a portion of the Estate.
If the heirs suspect that the deceased was insolvent, they may reject the inheritance within 90 days. Alternatively, they may, within 30 days, apply with the local Court for a formal inventory to be drawn up (at their own expenses) and only accept the inheritance accordingly.
When the heirs accept (even tacitly) the inheritance, they immediately become the successors of the deceased for all the Estate assets and liabilities. They must act jointly and they are severally responsible for the deceased’s debts and obligations (including outstanding contributions or taxes owed in connection with undeclared assets).
Usually, when the deceased was a foreign national, Swiss Courts require that the heirs submit a formal statement to be issued by a Notary Public, in accordance with information that must be given by two witnesses who have no interest in the Estate and who must confirm the deceased’s family status, along with a list of all relatives who may be entitled to the Estate. In the event of any doubt or if no one is able to provide the requested information, the Court may order that a formal notice be published in the official gazette, allowing any potential heir to challenge the Will within 1 year.
In some cases, the heirs also have to submit a legal opinion confirming the solution resulting from the application of some foreign rules (if selected in the Will) that are sometimes regarded as rather “exotic”.
Once the situation is clarified (and, where applicable, after a fiscal inventory is filed and inheritance tax paid), the Court issues a Certificate of Inheritance naming the heirs and allowing them to fully access the Estate assets and arrange for these to be distributed amongst them.
- Non-Swiss can (should) ask for their Estate to be governed by the law of their home country and state the country (i.e. will therefore avoid Napoleonic Code).
- They must clearly state in the Will that this is what they want to do, g. “I direct that my Estate shall be governed by *** law”.
- If it is not made before a Notary Public, the Will must be handwritten and married couple must write a Will each (so-called “joint-wills” are invalid in Switzerland).
- A handwritten Will does not have to be witnessed and it should be kept in a safe place.
- The appointment of an Executor (or more than one) should be considered.
- It is helpful to attach a list of worldwide assets such as the name of the bank, branch and account number in which accounts are held, details of life policies or any other assets, as well as the contact details of people who could inform the heirs (such as Attorney, Financial Advisor or Accountant).
Creating or Updating your Will / Estate Planning – The Right Questions
If you died today, how would your Estate be handled?
- Is there a Will and where is it?
- Which debts should be eliminated?
- Which assets should be sold (such as business or real estate)…
- … and which ones should be kept (such as heirlooms)?
- Who is to receive which assets (financial and sentimental)?
- Are there any distribution clauses (e.g. to give your watch to your son/daughter when they reach age 18)?
- Who is to take legal responsibility for any children under age 18?
- Who is to assist the heirs and to ensure that your instructions will be implemented?
- Did you know that, if you are a US citizen, Swiss banks can be required to freeze your accounts until all US taxes are declared and paid, thus a joint account could be frozen?
- If a joint account holder passes away, the account can be frozen until Swiss taxes are cleared up, with the surviving spouse only able to present bills for living expenses to be paid.
- If a married couple has children and one of the parents dies without leaving a Will, the child/children are deemed to inherit 50% of the Estate and depending on the Canton, may have to pay Inheritance Tax. In the Canton of Vaud, children may however be “gifted” up to CHF 50’000 per year each – tax free.
Careful individual planning allows to identify and solve a number of issues like these.
We offer a free initial consultation should you wish to discuss these or other financial planning matters and should legal advice be required, we will work in conjunction with excellent English-speaking Attorneys and likewise have access to excellent English-speaking Accountants if pertinent.
This notice is for information purpose only and does not constitute legal or other professional advice. Any specific queries should be looked at individually with a professional advisor. This document may not be disseminated or published without written authority.