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Providing relatives with financial support: when do family members have to pay?

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Anyone who can no longer earn their own living has a legal entitlement to receive support from their close relatives in Switzerland. But which family members can be obligated to provide financial support, for whom and how much? And what legal rules apply in the case of a conflict?

Isabelle Näf, legal expert at AXA-ARAG and a specialist in  contract, inheritance, family and personal law, answers the most important questions relating to the obligation to provide relatives with financial support.

I earn an above-average income. Can I be forced to financially support my sister who draws a disability pension?

No. Siblings are not under an obligation to provide their relatives with financial support.

Does this support obligation apply to all relatives?

No. It applies only among relatives in the direct line of descent: between grandparents, parents and children. Siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins are not obligated to provide each other with support.

What is meant by financial distress in the context of the obligation to provide relatives with financial support?

If a person is not able to earn their own living. When a person draws social security benefits, the municipality or social security office can check whether their relatives are obligated to provide financial support.

What are "favorable financial circumstances"?

According to a Federal Supreme Court ruling, you live in favorable financial circumstances if your income and assets allow you to live a comfortable life. What constitutes your income and assets is based on the information provided by the tax authorities.

In concrete terms, this means, according to the Swiss Conference for Social Welfare (SKOS): that single persons can be obligated to provide financial support as of a taxable annual income of CHF 120,000 and married couples as of CHF 180,000. If you have minors in your household, the limit is increased by CHF 20,000 per child. You can deduct an exempt amount from your taxable income. This is CHF 250,000 for single persons and CHF 500,000 for married couples. An additional CHF 40,000 per child can be deducted.

Your annual depletion of assets is deducted from the remaining amount. This means: if you are obligated to provide financial support, you are permitted to use part of your assets yourself each year; you don't have to devote your entire assets to providing support. At the age of 18-30, this is 1/60th per year; at the age of 31-40, 1/50th per year; at the age of 41-50, 1/40th per year; at the age of 51-60, 1/30th per year; and from the age of 61, 1/20th per year. 

My wife and I have an annual household income of around CHF 180,000 and two children of school age. Do I have to pay my parents' nursing home costs?

Not according to SKOS guidelines. The limit for a married couple with two children is CHF 220,000.

My father has never paid any child support for me. He now needs nursing care. Do I have to provide him with financial assistance? 

No, or at a reduced rate at the most. Your support obligation is reduced or even ceases to apply subject to special circumstances. For example, if a person has failed to meet their obligations toward you under family law or has committed a crime.

Do my siblings and I have to settle my mother's debts?

No. Children are not required to settle their parents' debts. But if you live in favorable financial circumstances, you might have to provide your mother with financial support.

Can grandchildren also be obligated to provide their grandparents with support?

Yes. But the entitlement to financial support is asserted in the order of inheritance rights. Relatives of the same degree are obligated to pay a share in keeping with their circumstances.

This means: if the grandparents' children and the grandchildren's parents likewise live in financially favorable circumstances, they are the first to be obligated to provide financial support: Any other children of the person in financial distress must all pay the same share.

My brother has fallen on hard times after an accident and my parents provide him with financial support. Am I obligated to provide him with support when our parents die?

No. Siblings are not under an obligation to provide their relatives with financial support.

Since 2000 siblings have no longer been obligated to provide their relatives with financial support.

Isabelle Näf, legal expert at AXA-ARAG

My father has gifted his assets to us children. Do we have to pay back the money if our father has to go into a nursing home and cannot pay the costs?

In this case, you can become obligated to provide financial support in your capacity as a relative if you live in favorable financial circumstances. In concrete terms, this means you are not required to pay back the gifted assets or any advances on your inheritance.

If your father applies to the social insurance authorities for supplementary benefits, they will check his entitlement and add any assets gifted to you and your siblings to his existing assets.

However: CHF 10,000 is deducted for each year that passes after any advances made on your inheritance or any gift you receive. Factoring in the gifted assets can lead to your father's application for supplementary benefits being rejected in full or reduced.

Which entity decides in Switzerland if the family is not in agreement about the extent of support they have to provide?

The welfare authorities cannot demand any contributions from relatives. In the event of a dispute, the municipality of the place of residence that is obligated to provide assistance or meet the costs must bring a civil action before the court for future support payments that can be extended for a maximum of one year before the petition is filed.

The specific amount of support is calculated as follows: in the case of a high standard of living, the effective income required (flat rate) for households of relatives obligated to provide support is deducted from effective income less the exempt amount and depletion of assets (single-person household: CHF 10,000 per month, two-person household: CHF 15,00, supplement per child: CHF 1,700)

 

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