Switzerland’s Pension Funds: Kill Your Spouse, Get Free Money!

Oh, look, another way that old attitudes towards domestic violence persist: Zurich’s Tages-Anzeiger (the Daily Anzeiger?*1) is reporting in German that despite Swiss law requiring that spouse-murderers not benefit financially from their crimes, the laws of Switzerland (presumably Vital Records laws or similar) are not structured in a way that pension funds are informed whether a death is from natural causes or not. RTS amplified the Tages-Anzeiger in a small french-language article. (Content Warning: if you play the accompanying news video, they have a portrayal of a fictional domestic-violence murder. I have no idea why.)

Le droit suisse prévoit qu’une personne puisse être déshéritée si elle a intentionnellement tenté de provoquer la mort du légataire.

Pourtant, les caisses de pension ignorent souvent si la mort est naturelle ou non. “Ces cas non signalés sont difficiles à découvrir”, affirme le secrétaire général de l’Association prévoyance suisse Emmanuel Ullman pour expliquer cette situation.

One translation might be:

Swiss law specifies that a person can be disinherited if that person intended to cause the death of someone from whom that person would inherit.

However, pension funds are often ignorant of whether a death is natural or  not. Emmanuel Ullman explained the situation this way, “Those cases [where death is intended] which don’t reach the media are difficult to discover.”

While there’s a clear intent in Swiss law that murderers don’t benefit financially from killing others, private pension funds are not automatically informed of such situations. In the Nineteenth Century and further back, a man murdering a wife likely did not worry about inheritance. Any assets would be in his name in any case. The changes in law that recognize women as legal persons made it possible for women to own assets that their husbands did not. As a result, what once was not an issue of justice (the husband could not gain money by murdering a wife) is now very much an issue of justice. Some laws were updated, but governments have routinely failed to appreciate the full spectrum of statutory changes necessary to ensure justice in the new context of women’s personhood.

Government probate courts have probably been doing a good job of ensuring that the law is followed and thus that killers (including wives as well as husbands) are not unjustly enriched, but the private actors (such as pension funds, but probably also private banks to some degree) are clearly not getting the information they need. The Tages-Anzeiger article used one specific case as an example, but based on Ullman’s statement, it’s almost certain that there are many, many more that have not come to light.

When people tell you that the work of feminism is done and that legal equality is achieved, you can point to this as but one example of how a reasonably progressive European democracy has yet to implement all the changes to its laws that are logically required to achieve justice in a world where women are legal persons. This is a long row we hoe.

*1: Google translate tells me that Anzeiger means “Indicator”. Colloquially, a similar english-language name might be “The Daily Barometer”. On the other hand, it also tells me that “anzeig” means “ad”, which would make the more appropriate translation “The Daily Advertiser”. Of course, it could still be a derivation of a place name with which I’m not familiar.


  1. agender says

    1. Language: Der Tagesanzeiger is a daily newspaper that finances mostly on ads (and was created that way) and not on readers. Therefore the translation Daily News or Daily Printed News would be too pre-Internet.
    2. The article is misleading – I presume on purpose (Der Tagesanzeiger is capitalist AND very rightwing politically). This civil law mixes up domestic violence and euthanasia (which is legal, as for penal code, in all of Switzerland, but civil law applies often to one Canton only) and it gives me the impression of expoiting this.
    There is an ongoing trial against the founder of one of the Practical Euthanasia- societies, Ludwig Minelli.
    All the religious-leaning press tries to deestablish Switzerland´ s right to die, and as they have been successful in Germany (§217 penal code is waiting to get hearing before Germany´s Supreme Court “Bundesverfassungsgericht”, and §218, the abortionforbidding law, has several attacks waiting in the line of court procedings, about financing, information which MD can and is willing to do abortions, attacks on doctors and staff of several hospitals….)
    §218 in Germany and §144 in Austria forbid abortions, and there are “exemptions” for women, hospitals and MDs, each complicated to navigate, and Switzerland is even more so.

  2. khms says

    a reasonably progressive European democracy

    Let me just point out that Women in Switzerland gained the right to vote in federal elections after a referendum in February 1971.

    I’m not sure calling them reasonably progressive is justified.

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