How to collect your money if you have inherited a Swiss bank account
If a holder of a Swiss bank account has passed away and the Swiss bank has been informed on the death of the account holder as a client you can be sure that your Swiss bank will freeze the account – immediately. The bank account will be frozen despite if there is a joint account relationship or not.
Do not think that you can have access to the funds just because you are the surviving joint account holder, because you have a post mortem power of attorney or because you are the universal heir. The bank will block the account in any case.
Swiss bank account inheritance and Islamic banking
For Islamic banking clients it is crucial how to structure inheritance and succession planning if female family members must be protected. Many Swiss bankers which are not familiar with the rules of Islamic banking are proposing a post mortem power of attorney or a joint account as a cheap instrument for inheritance planning. As the head of a family with female members only, you should protect your female family members in a different way. You can set-up segregated accounts in the name of your daughters or you can set-up a very simple trust (similar to a waqf) and appoint your wife and your daughters as beneficiaries of the trust. Any other solution with joint accounts or post mortem power of attorney can be very dangerous for your female family members and they can end in misery and poverty just because of poor advice and wrong inheritance planning for big families.
Why the bank does not allow you to transfer the funds in favour of your own account?
The bank will stay always on the safe side and will avoid the risk to pay out to the wrong person. The bank has to ascertain the identities of al heirs and al successors before one cent will go out of the account. The bank has first to make sure to deal with the legitimate successors and heirs.
All heirs together are considered as successors of the account holder. One heir alone is not authorized to move one cent. Many clients are convinced that the bank will share the account balance between the heirs in equal parts and pay out a share to each single heir. That’s not true. The bank will not pay out until there is a common instruction duly signed by al heirs. The bank is not acting in the benefit of the heirs.
Is the Swiss government controlling the bank if the distribution to the heirs is fair?
The bank is not under the control of the Swiss government. That means that the heirs must be in agreement. The bank will identify each single heir before accepting his signature on the common payment instruction. In case of a pending litigation between the heirs the bank will wait and make money on the funds – until the heirs have an agreement in place. Some clients are expecting the bank to share the balance and making distributions to the heirs according to their share inherited. It’s not true. The bank will do nothing in case of litigation among the heirs.
Example 1: The Joint-Account
We have a joint account in the name of A and B. In case B has passed away the bank will freeze the account in order to avoid making a full pay-out to A. If the bank will effect a pay-out of the entire balance to the surviving account holder A there is the risk that the legitimate heirs of B are demanding their share in their capacity as heirs and legal successors of the account holder B. The bank wants to avoid the risk to pay twice.
In case you are the heirs of B you should inform immediately the bank that B has passed away and that you are the legitimate heirs and successors. You can be sure that after the bank has been informed on the decease the account remains frozen until the surviving account holder has executed an agreement with the legitimate heirs and successors.
Do not relay on the apparent post mortem benefits of a post mortem power of attorney
A post mortem power of attorney is a power of attorney which remains in force after the death of the principal. Many junior bankers have aggressively sold such power of attorney as a cheap succession planning instrument to their clients – with devastating consequences for the successors of the account holders. I have received many clients in my office convinced that they are authorized to take money out of the account by virtue of their post-mortem power of attorney. The reality is that the bank will freeze the account as soon the bank has been informed about the death of the account holder. In case you are the beneficiary of the post mortem power of attorney do not relay on the post mortem power of attorney. There is one advantage of such a post-mortem power of attorney only – the advantage is in favour of the bank. The beneficiary of this one advantage is the bank and not the client. Why?
Example 2: How a secretary becomes wealthy after the decease of the boss
Let’s assume A has an account with a Swiss bank and he has granted a post-mortem power of attorney to his secretary B. Secretary B has executed many transactions for A during the last 10 years. She was always very close and very nice to the principal A. The nice looking secretary B goes to the bank 48 hours after the decease of A but she will not inform the bank that A has passed away. Why? 24 hours before, the sexy secretary has been advised by a senior private banking lawyer on how to exclude the legal heirs from the estate of the boss and how to circumvent the rights of the family of his boss. Instead informing the bank on the death of the principal she transfers all their funds to their own account with HSBC Hong Kong in the name of their own Hong Kong Company. From the Hong Kong Company the funds are transferred to a bank in Panama and transformed in physical gold. The physical gold has been stored by the secretary B wisely outside the banking system with an international storage firm in Panama City. Secretary B was very clever and she has broken the paper trail and she is living as a high-net-worth-individual after having relocated to a tax heaven jurisdiction in the Caribbean.
The bank has a post-mortem power of attorney in place. In the fine print of this agreement there is written the formula that the bank is authorized to pay out the funds also after the death of the account holder by virtue of the power of attorney. This document was signed by A. The same obligation has passed over to the heirs. The heirs have to accept that A has given a post-mortem power of attorney. If the bank would have been informed that A has expired the bank would have blocked the account immediately. Secretary B remains poor. The heirs in their capacity as legal successors of A would have revoked the post-mortem power of attorney in favour of B. The bank will not pay one cent to the heirs because the bank is backed by the formula in the fine print of the post-mortem power of attorney. A post-mortem power of attorney will protect the banks exclusively and not the heirs.
A post-mortem power of attorney will not work as a succession planning instrument because in most of the cases the post mortem power of attorney will be revoked by the heirs. The post-mortem power of attorney protects the banks in case the banks are not aware on the death of the account holder. As a succession planning instrument you should use a trust or a family foundation. These are the right instruments for succession planning. No post-mortem power of attorney and no succession planning with joint-accounts.
Lenin’s Swiss bank account and dormant account legislation
If the bank has no contact with the account holder for years this account becomes a dormant account. Dormant accounts are subject to a specific legislation which came into force after the scandal with the holocaust funds. Dormant accounts are managed by the Ombudsman. During the research effected in connection with the holocaust funds it came up that Lenin, the initiator of the Russian revolution had a bank account in Switzerland 1905, before WWI. Lenin’s account was discovered as a still exiting account which has survived 2 world wars and the cold war. This fact shows reliability and business continuity of Swiss banks. Nothing can be lost. Swiss banks accounts have survived world wars.
I receive many requests in my office from people living all over the world convinced to be the heirs of WWII victims with bank accounts opened before WWII. Very few of such requests are ending successfully. In case you are convinced to be the heir of a Swiss bank account holder which has passed away you can send me your documentation and I will check it for you. My first check is free of charge.
Don’t spend money for lawyers for a useless investigation
In case we have a solid case we will initiate a research procedure for dormant accounts using specific forms for dormant accounts. Our research will be filed with the Ombudsman in charge for dormant accounts. I will help you to complete your file. We check for you if you have a strong case giving access to funds inherited.
Can I be the successor of a bank account and have access to the funds without being legitimate heir of the account holder which has passed away?
Yes, you can. If the account holder is a trust or a family foundation or an underlying company controlled by a trust or a family foundation domiciled in Liechtenstein or in Panama you can be beneficiary of the trust without family ties to the settlor. Trusts or family foundations are frequently established in jurisdictions without forced heir ship rules. In order to circumvent forced heir ship rules encountered for example in all continental European jurisdictions some clients are demanding a set-up allowing to donate substantial assets “mortis causa” out of the influence of forced heir ship rules legislation. Panama and anglo-saxon trusts jurisdictions made a business out of it. So-called “forum shopping” strategies can be chosen to optimize the wishes of international families with international ties. Many homosexual clients are demanding such inheritance, estate and succession planning instruments. Based on appropriate structures we are in a position to help homosexual clients to make sure that hostile family members are not coming into the benefit of the estate.
What are the documents giving you access to the bank account inherited?
If you have inherited funds time is of essence. You have to act immediately in case the account holder which has passed away had some very close friends before he has passed away. I will guide you through the negotiations with your bank and your heirs.
List of documents you need:
- Certificate of Death
- Certificate of Inheritance or Probate, listing the names of all heirs
- Last Will, if any
- Passport of all heirs
- Collective transfer instruction signed collectively by all heirs or instituted heirs
The documents must be legalized by a notary public and super legalized with Apostille according to the Hague Convention signed 1961.
If you inherited a Swiss bank account and you are short on documents but you are convinced that the account exists you should hire Caputo & Partners AG to solve your problems. There are close to 400 banks in Switzerland. Not all banks are asking the same documents. Due to the extensive experience I have acquired over years dealing with succession cases as internal legal counsel with UBS I can guarantee to ensure a smooth transfer of the assets inherited to you – hassle free. Let us negotiate with your bank which documents are accepted by your bank. We will negotiate for you. Do not inform the Swiss bank in case you need your money immediately to buy a house, for example. Let the bank believe that the funds stay with the bank, at least until the assets have been transferred to an account in your sole name. Let the bank believe that you will continue the asset management activities with the same bank that you do not need your funds now. These will facilitate our negotiations with the bank tremendously. Otherwise, the bank can be reluctant to support you in the transfer of assets.
I will guide you through the negotiations with the bank and ensure you to have the right things done in the right place at the right time.
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