Death, inheritance and wills in Sweden

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Get clarity on everything from death certificates to funeral ceremonies in Sweden. This text shows you how you handle funeral arrangements, funeral assistance, the estate, inheritance regulations, wills, and financial support, as well as the regulations regarding the transport of coffins or urns to and from Sweden.

The loss of a close relative comes with practical and legal aspects, so it is crucial to understand procedures and legislation, what to expect, and how to deal with the different aspects of the situation.

This article is both for people who want to provide their family with security after their death and those who have to plan a close relative’s final journey.

Swedish legislation and advice in the event of a death

Swedish laws on death, inheritance, and wills are designed to protect the interests of families and to respect the wishes of the deceased.

The loss of a loved one is a challenging time, but understanding the regulations relating to a death, inheritance, and wills can ease the burden on you and your family. Through a combination of respect for the law and personal wishes, you can ensure that your loved ones are protected and that your wishes are fulfilled even when you are no longer around.

What happens in the event of death in Sweden?

It is important to know how deaths are reported and registered in Sweden, the roles of doctors, the police and the Swedish Tax Agency in the process, and what you should be aware of if a close relative passes away in Sweden.

Procedures and formalities relating to deaths in Sweden

When a person dies in Sweden, there are some steps that must be followed to handle the situation correctly:

  1. Death certificate: If the death occurs outside a hospital, you must contact a doctor who can confirm the death and write a death certificate (dödsbevis). The death certificate is necessary to initiate the legal and administrative processes.
  2. Notification and registration of a death: When the death has been confirmed, the doctor reports the death to the Swedish Tax Agency and in some cases also to the police. The Swedish Tax Agency will register the death, after which you can order the death certificate with genealogical information (dödsfallsintyg).
  3. Burial or cremation: The family must decide whether the deceased is to be buried or cremated. This decision determines the nature of the ceremony and subsequent handling. According to the Swedish Funeral Act, a coffin must be buried or cremated within one month of the death. After cremation, you can wait for up to a year before burying the urn.
  4. Funeral arrangements: Family and friends usually gather for a funeral ceremony, which can be religious or secular, to share grief and memories.

Funerals and funeral assistance in Sweden

It is important to understand the funeral process, options, and what applies regarding funeral assistance.

What must you do?

  1. Contact a funeral director: Choose a funeral director (begravningsbyrå) to help arrange the funeral. They take care of all the formalities, planning, and coordination with the church or chapel.
  2. Contact a church: If a religious funeral is preferred, contact the relevant church. They will guide you through the planning of the ceremony.
  3. Documents and approvals: Make sure you have the deceased's personal documents ready, including the death certificate and the will if there is one. The funeral director will help with applications for burial permits and necessary approvals.

In Sweden, a funeral, a memorial service, or cremation must take place within one month of the death. Usually the deceased's relatives or guardians arrange the funeral. If the deceased has expressed any wishes about the funeral, it is important to include these in the planning; for example, you must find out whether the deceased wanted a grave, scattering of ashes, or for an urn to be buried in a memorial garden.

Church of Sweden assemblies and parishes are responsible for funeral activities in Sweden, except in Stockholm and Tranås, where the municipality is responsible. Everyone who is registered in the Population Register in Sweden pays a funeral charge every year. The funeral charge covers costs such as the maintenance of cemeteries, cremation and burial, but the charge is not linked to funeral arrangements for individuals.

If the deceased was a member of the Church of Sweden, the cost of the funeral ceremony is included in the church tax. If the deceased was not a member, you can arrange a ceremony in a church if you pay for it  and it is in accordance with the deceased’s wishes.

If the deceased chose to have a civil funeral in Sweden, the funeral director can help you arrange a ceremony that is not religious but still meaningful and respectful. Civil funerals are popular in Sweden and enable a personal farewell without religious elements.

Who pays for the funeral in Sweden?

The funeral expenses are usually covered by the deceased's estate or insurance, if funds are available, so make sure you save receipts for expenses relating to the funeral.

If the deceased has not left funds to cover the funeral costs, in certain cases financial help can be provided by social authorities. This is financial support that can be given to the next of kin or the person who has taken responsibility for the funeral.

You can apply for financial support from the municipality’s social service office. The municipality can award a grant for a simple but dignified funeral and obituary.

It is the estate assets on the date of death and any income received after the date of death that determines whether financial support can be given, and how much. The size of the grant can vary between the municipalities in Sweden.

If the estate has other debts to pay after the date of death, this will not be compensated by the financial support. The person who is responsible for the estate should therefore:

  • Make an assessment of the assets to see whether there are sufficient funds to cover the funeral expenses.
  • Not pay bills before contacting the social services office.
  • Contact the social services office before ordering the funeral.
  • Cancel any direct debits with the bank or payees.
  • Cancel fixed transfers with the bank.

When a person dies, all assets and debts of the deceased are transferred to an estate. If the deceased’s debts are greater than the assets, the debts cannot be paid in full. Heirs do not inherit the debts. Debts that cannot be paid with assets from the estate are written off.

If you need help administering an estate or have questions regarding the estate inventory and inheritance matters, etc, you may need to contact a lawyer specialising in inheritance issues.

What is an estate and what is its purpose?

On the same day that a person dies, everything the person owned, agreements, and debts are transferred to an estate. An estate is the deceased person's wealth and possessions, and can comprise, for example, a house, jewelery, and a car.

An estate ceases to exist when the inheritance has been settled, i.e., when the deceased's assets, if any, have been divided up between the heirs.

The survivors must decide whether they want to carry out the estate inventory themselves or get professional help, and they must find out whether the deceased had any special wishes about who should handle the estate inventory.

The estate must do the following:

  • Inform people about the death
  • Plan the funeral - the funeral must take place within a month
  • Send the estate inventory to the Swedish Tax Agency within four months
  • Distribute the inheritance
  • Close accounts and terminate agreements
  • Check that the Swedish Tax Agency has the correct address
  • Complete an income declaration for the estate no later than 1 May

What is an estate inventory?

When a person dies, an estate inventory must be carried out. An estate inventory, or estate assessment, is an assessment of the actual value of the estate - after debts have been paid and assets have been sold or transferred to the heirs.

It is generally the relatives who administer the estate and its distribution, but heirs may also get help from a funeral director or a solicitor. The administrator of the estate (boutredningsman) is responsible for ensuring that an estate inventory (bouppteckning) is drawn up.

After the estate inventory:

  • A statement of assets and liabilities must be drawn up if the deceased was cohabiting and not married.
  • An inheritance document must be drawn up if there are several heirs.
  • The estate inventory must be sent to the Swedish Tax Agency no later than four months after the death.
  • A death certificate with a genealogical investigation can be ordered from the Sweden Tax Agency or through the funeral director.

A form and brochure concerning the estate inventory can be downloaded from the website of the Swedish Tax Agency.

Inheritance and inheritance regulations in Sweden

In Sweden, inheritance is primarily regulated by the Swedish Inheritance Act. If the deceased left a will, this must be sent to the district court. If there is no will, the Inheritance Act determines the distribution of property and assets. When a person dies, the property is normally distributed as follows:

  1. Costs of estate inventory and probate costs: Before the inheritance can be distributed, the costs of the estate inventory and probate costs must be paid.
  2. Inheritance classes: The Inheritance Act divides heirs into different classes. The first class is the deceased’s children and grandchildren. If there is nobody in the first class, the inheritance goes to the deceased’s parents and siblings in the second class, and so on.
  3. Inheritance and wills: If there is no will, the inheritance is determined by the Inheritance Act. However, if the deceased had drawn up a will, this must be followed. The will must be in writing, and must be signed and dated in front of two witnesses.

If the parties to the estate are unable to agree, the district court may appoint an estate administrator or an probate officer.

Swedish inheritance regulations

Swedish regulations on inheritance are shown in the Inheritance Code (Ärvdabalken). The Inheritance Code contains regulations on inheritance when there is no will.

You can read the general inheritance regulations on the websites of the Swedish Courts and the Swedish Tax Agency.

When a married person dies, the surviving spouse inherits before their joint children. The joint children must wait for their inheritance until the second parent also dies. The joint children have the right to subsequently inherit, and are therefore descendants of the first deceased parent.

If someone with no husband, wife, or registered partner dies, the deceased's next of kin have the right to inherit. The deceased's relatives that are entitled to inherit are divided into inheritance classes.

If a Swedish citizen living abroad has not made a will and stated that they wish to follow the Swedish inheritance rules in an international situation, the Inheritance Code does not apply.

Inheritance tax in Sweden

Sweden has no inheritance tax.

Inheritance regulations in international situations

When a person dies, it is the authorities in the country in which the deceased was resident that administers the estate.

A Swedish probate only administers an estate if the deceased was resident in Sweden - that is, the person had their permanent home in Sweden.

Nordic inheritance regulations

The regulations on inheritance and probate differ from country to country, but the inheritance laws of the Nordic countries are largely similar to each other. However, there are differences.

You can read about inheritance and probate in the Nordic Convention between Norway, Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Sweden on inheritance and estate distribution, and you will find straightforward information about inheritance in international situations on the Sweden Abroad website.

Contact the Swedish Tax Agency for more information about inheritance in international situations.

If you are involved in an inheritance case abroad, you can use a local solicitor.

Inheritance regulations according to EU law

As the world's borders become more fluid, many inheritances have acquired an international element. The aim of the EU regulation on matters of succession is to prevent double administration of inheritance and facilitate the process for all parties involved. The laws and court that apply for the inheritance are determined by the provisions of the inheritance regulation.

According to agreements within EU law, the law of the country in which the deceased was resident at the time of death apply to the entire inheritance. The EU regulation on succession means that Swedish law applies to the inheritance when your relative was resident in Sweden at the time of death.

You can find information in the Law (2015:417) on Inheritance in International Situations.

European Certificate of Succession (ECS)

In order to document the inheritance in other EU countries, you can get a European Certificate of Succession, ECS (Europeiskt arvsintyg). The ECS applies in all EU countries except Denmark and Ireland.

The purpose of the ECS is to facilitate the process both for heirs and others involved in inheritance matters, such as executors of wills (boutredningsmän). This can be relevant if you need to withdraw money from an account in another country. Instead of presenting an estate inventory or similar documentation, the ECS is sufficient.

Read more about the ECS on the website of the Swedish Tax Agency.

Wills for expatriate Swedes

It is important to draw up a will when you settle permanently abroad. In the will, you must specify that Swedish law is to apply when distributing the inheritance if you wish.

If you have dual nationality, you may choose which country’s law is to apply. However, you can only choose the law of a country in which you are a citizen.

Swedish regulations on wills stipulate certain requirements. In order to be valid, a will must be in writing, must have two witnesses who watch you sign it, must also be signed by the witnesses, and the witnesses must understand that the document is a will. Try to be as detailed as possible in your will, taking into account any inheritance and other assets from abroad.

If the deceased has drawn up a will, it is the will that applies instead of laws on inheritance. However, there are restrictions, so the deceased's direct heirs (children, grandchildren, and so on) are always entitled to a part of the inheritance.

Drawing up a will allows you to decide how your property will be divided up after your death. Here are some important points about wills in Sweden:

  1. Will versus inheritance law: A will allows you to deviate from inheritance law and give an inheritance to people who would not normally be eligible. You can also specify your wishes regarding the funeral, guardianship of minors, and so on.
  2. Validity: A will must be in writing and signed by you in front of two witnesses. The witnesses must also sign the document. The date is important, in order to determine which will applies if there are several versions.
  3. Changes to the will: You may change your will at any time. It is important to update it, if you change your wishes or your life situation changes.

Dual citizenship

The EU Regulation on Succession has simplified the administration of various inheritance issues involving several countries for heirs and beneficiaries. According to the Regulation, a person who is a citizen of several countries has the right to choose which of these countries' inheritance regulations are to be applied to their inheritance. This choice of law can be included in your will, regardless of how you express it.

If an EU/EEA citizen does not choose a country's law in their will, the inheritance regulations of the country where the person died or had the closest connection are activated instead.

An expatriate Swede living in another Nordic country must draw up a will in which it is stated that Swedish inheritance law must apply, in order to be sure that the inheritance is distributed according to Swedish law.

Read more about Swedish wills on the website of the Swedish Courts.

Deaths in another country

When a Swedish citizen, or a foreign citizen who has been registered in the Swedish Population Register, dies in another Nordic country, the embassy or consulate in that country normally reports the death to the Swedish Tax Agency. If not, the relatives of the deceased must inform the Swedish Tax Agency, and the Swedish Pensions Agency (Pensionsmyndigheten) if the deceased was receiving a pension from Sweden.

The embassy in the country in question can provide relatives with help and support. This may include contact with local authorities, advice on necessary documentation, and registration of the death.

If a Swede dies abroad, the embassy can help with:

  • Obtaining information about the incident from local authorities.
  • Advice on necessary documentation for home transport of the deceased.
  • Advice on local funerals.
  • Registering the death with the Swedish Tax Agency.

If there is insurance, the insurance company's emergency service usually assists with practical matters relating to the death. The insurance can, for example, pay for repatriation of the deceased.

If there is no insurance, the embassy can give relatives advice on repatriation of the deceased or a local funeral on site. These costs are paid by the relatives. The embassy cannot provide loans for such expenses.

Transport of coffins or urns to and from Sweden.

If a death occurs abroad, it is the local authorities that issue a death certificate. You as relative must then contact the embassy or consulate. The embassy or consulate can help with advice and guidance in connection with any repatriation of a coffin or urn.

If the deceased is not to be cremated before transport abroad, the authorities must issue a permit for the deceased (passersedel för lik). The permit ensures that the health and administrative requirements for transporting a dead person are met.

In the event of transport to another country from Sweden, the permit must be issued by the Swedish Tax Agency. For transport to Sweden, the permit must be issued by the competent authority of the country concerned. There are special requirements regarding the design of the coffin, which must be sealed and robust.

It can be very expensive to repatriate a coffin, so many choose to cremate the deceased in the country in question and then repatriate the urn.

A permit is not required when ashes are transported to or from abroad or for the transport of a body within Sweden's borders. However, you must report to the Swedish Tax Agency if you are planning to import ashes into Sweden, and you must order a certificate (passersedel) from the Tax Agency to take ashes out of Sweden.

On the website of the Swedish Tax Agency you can find information about transporting a coffin and an urn containing the deceased's ashes to and from Sweden.

Further information regarding the loss of a close relative

Swedish authorities have drawn up a survivor's guide to make it easier for people who have lost a close relative. The guide contains information about what resources are available in Sweden for handling grief and the possibilities of obtaining financial support in connection with a death.

The guide is designed to provide clarity and direction at a sensitive time when it can be difficult to navigate through the various aspects of death in Sweden.

Pension and financial support to survivors

When a spouse or co-habiting partner dies, in certain situations you may be eligible for financial support. It is important to you check what applies in your situation.

  • Find out if you are entitled to a survivor’s pension by contacting the Swedish Pensions Agency (Pensionsmyndigheten).
  • Find out if you are entitled to financial compensation from a collective insurance scheme through the deceased’s employer.
  • Find out if you are entitled to financial compensation from insurance policies.
  • Find out if you are entitled to housing allowance from the Swedish Social Insurance Agency (Försäkringskassan). You must apply for this.
  • If you are a pensioner, find out if you are entitled to housing allowance from the Swedish Pensions Agency. You must apply for this.

Who should you contact if you have questions?

You can contact your embassy, the deceased's municipality, or these authorities for help about what applies in your situation:

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