The death certificate – certification of death

The death certificate confirms the death of a person with all important details. It is a prerequisite for important legal steps to be taken after a death. With it, the heirs can, for example, apply for the certificate of inheritance and organise the funeral.

Quick Summary

  • For the death certificate, a medical professional must first issue a medical death certificate.
  • You can then order the death certificate of the deceased person from the cantonal civil registry office. You can also order this again at a later date for a fee.
  • Consider whether you need a national or international death certificate. If assets of the deceased person exist abroad, an international deed makes sense.
  • The death certificate is a prerequisite for important steps after a death. You will need the death certificate in particular for issuing the certificate of inheritance.

What is the death certificate?

The death certificate (known as ‘Sterbeurkunde’ or ‘Todesschein’ depending on the canton and municipality) is the official confirmation of the death of a person as well as its place and time. It thus forms the counterpart to the birth certificate at the end of life. These two documents mark the beginning and end of a person’s life from the point of view of the civil status authorities.

The death certificate is issued in Switzerland by the cantonal civil registry offices. You will need a number of details and documents for this (death notification, see below).

What is the death certificate different from?

The death certificate must be distinguished from several other documents relating to a death:

  • On the one hand, it is to be distinguished from the medical death certificate. This is issued immediately after death as the result of the legal inspection (colloquially: post-mortem examination) by a medical professional. In addition to the time and place of death, it provides information about the circumstances of the death. The medical death certificate thus constitutes, among other things, the preparation and basis of the death certificate.
  • On the other hand, death certificate and death notification must be kept apart. The term death notification can have several meanings: Firstly, it is the (obligatory) information of the civil status authorities about a death. This is usually done by the relatives of the deceased within two working days upon presentation of identity documents (medical death certificate, family certificate, certificate of receipt of documents or confirmation of registration). In addition, death notices refers to In addition, death notices referS to the section of a newspaper in which local deaths are published (also: obituaries).
  • Furthermore, the death certificate is to be separated from the certificate of inheritance, which provisionally confirms the entitlement of individual heirs to the estate. Inheritance certificates are only issued after the opening of the succession, which in turn runs in parallel with the issuing of the death certificate. In other words: no death certificate, no certificate of inheritance.

Who receives the death certificate and what information does it contain?

The death certificate is issued to the relatives after the death has been registered at the registry office of the place of death (canton or commune). The death of the deceased person is recorded in the civil register. It is therefore possible to request further copies of the document in the form of a civil status register extract at a later date (possibly subject to a charge, usually CHF 30 processing fee plus postage). Re-ordering must be justified with a purpose of use on a case-by-case basis due to legal restrictions or for data protection reasons.

The federal death certificate is trilingual (German, French, Italian) and available for deaths since 2005.

Zudem ist es möglich, einen internationalen Totenschein bzw. eine internationale Todesurkunde nach den Standards der Internationalen Kommission für das Zivilstandswesen (frz. Commission Internationale de l’Etat Civil, CIEC) zu bestellen. Diese ist fünfsprachig (deutsch, französisch, italienisch, englisch, spanisch) und gilt als Standard für Todesfälle vor dem Jahr 2005.

In many cantons or communes, the death certificate can be ordered by online form and sent by post. It is also permissible to commission third parties, e.g. employees of, with the procurement of a death certificate. This requires the granting of a written power of attorney.

The death certificate shall include:

  • Death details:
    • Date and time
    • Place (municipality)
  • Details of the deceased person:
    • Name and, if applicable, maiden name and other names
    • First name
    • Date and place of birth
    • Citizenship rights or nationality (for foreigners)
    • Last marital status (single/married/registered partnership/divorced/widowed), with date of change if applicable
    • Residence
  • Details of relatives of the deceased person:
    • Surname and first name of mother
    • Surname and first name of father
    • If applicable, surname and first name as well as sex, citizenship and place of residence of the last spouse/registered partner
  • Details of the issuing authority:
    • Place, date, name of issuing official, function
    • Official stamp
    • Signature

What is the death certificate needed for?

The main purpose

The death certificate confirms the death of a person in official and civil dealings. As a public document, it has an increased credibility and evidentiary value. Therefore, putting a forged document into circulation or misusing it is also punishable (Art. 251 StGB (Swiss Civil Code), forgery of documents).

After the notification of death (and thus the entry in the civil register or the issuing of a death certificate), the competent cantonal authorities at the deceased’s last place of residence open the succession ex officio. As a rule, a death certificate does not have to be submitted for this purpose.

The beneficiaries of the inheritance need the death certificate to apply for a certificate of inheritance. This shows them as participants in the inheritance and is needed, for example, to dispose of bank accounts or real estate. A burial may also only be carried out if a corresponding death certificate has been issued.

Other purposes of the death certificate

In addition, it is needed for numerous other steps after a death. Namely, the death certificate establishes legal claims to insurance benefits, survivor’s pensions or settlements from compulsory pension provision as well as the payment of (tied) private pension assets. These are subject to social security law and are handled separately from the inheritance.

Another main aspect is the termination of current contracts of the deceased person. Not all contracts automatically end with the death of a party involved. If this is not provided for by law (e.g. employment contract, Art. 338 Swiss Code of Obligations (in short CO)) or in the contract itself, the community of heirs, or after division of the estate, individual heirs, take their place as legal successors. Probably the most important case in which the contract must be terminated upon presentation of the death certificate is the extraordinary termination of a rental flat pursuant to Art. 266i CO. Often, a simple copy of the death certificate is sufficient to terminate the contract. The original document or a notarisation is not required.

The death certificate (German ‘Todesurkunde’, ‘Sterbeurkunde’ or ‘Todesschein’, French ‘Acte de décès’, Italian ‘Atto di morte’) is an extract from the civil register confirming the death of a person with the place/time of death. On the basis of the issuing authority (civil registry office) and its function (public document), it is to be distinguished in particular from the medical death certificate, the death notification and the certificate of inheritance. It is required for the funeral, for some steps of an inheritance, for the receipt of survivors’ benefits and for the extraordinary termination of contracts of the deceased person.

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