MyHappyEnd, a collection of charities, is launching a no-holds-barred campaign reminding the Swiss to mention non-governmental organisations (NGO) in their will.
The first International Legacy Giving Day is being held on September 13, during Remember A Charity Week, with slogans along the lines of “Do good when you’re gone!” or “Sow together and reap separately”.
“People are afraid of thinking about their death, but for me this will is just a piece of paper,” said 70-year-old Regula Siegrist, who drew up a will 20 years ago supporting Swiss Mountain Rescue.
Single and with no children, Siegrist works as a tourist guide and has spent most of her life abroad. At the beginning of the 1980s she settled in Ascona, canton Ticino, where she rediscovered the beauty of the mountains and the harsh life of the people who live there.
“I’ve always been sensitive to poverty. I have three African godchildren but I always want to help disadvantaged people here,” she said.
She came across the Swiss Mountain Rescue magazine, got in touch and saw an expert in action.
“I was impressed by the competence and efficiency of this NGO. What’s more, the money is well spent, with a minimum of administrative costs because most workers are volunteers.”
When she turned 50, Siegrist began thinking about the future. “Like my parents, I drafted my will before my 60th. I have a brother and a nephew who will inherit the lion’s share of my possessions. The rest I’ve bequeathed to mountain rescue.”
Siegrist is among 70 per cent of Swiss who donated SFr1.2 billion ($1.53 billion) in 2010, according to market researchers gfs.zurich.
People are still generous after their deaths since state-owned charities receive bequests worth hundreds of millions of francs.
But this is relatively little, considering annual bequests total SFr30 billion.
“According to our statistics, only a quarter of people leave wills and of those half leave more than a million francs,” said Samy Darwish, a lawyer at the environmental organisation WWF.
This pushed 16 NGOs to get together under the banner MyHappyEnd, with the aim of encouraging Swiss to think of NGOs when making their final wishes, since if someone has no direct heirs, their possessions go to the state.
A campaign for International Legacy Giving Day on September 13 will include posters and television adverts, featuring Swiss celebrities encouraging people to get their pens out.
But why do up to three-quarters of Swiss not draw up wills?
“Swiss law deals with things so well that people let the law sort out what happens when they’re gone, unlike in places like Britain where you have to take care of it yourself,” said Ivo Torelli, spokesman for Swiss Mountain Rescue.
And then there’s the question of age: it’s natural to think of doing this at 80, but less so when you’re 50.
Swiss Mountain Rescue isn’t part of MyHappyEnd. It doesn’t need to be, since half of its donations (SFr20-25 million a year) are bequests. But this figure isn’t more than 15 per cent for NGOs as a whole, according to the Swiss service of certification for state-owned organisations (Zewo).
By comparison, WWF – which is a member of MyHappyEnd – received SFr3 million from wills in 2010, some five per cent of its total donations.
“Certain organisations are more attractive than others to give to when you’re dead than when you’re alive,” Darwish admitted.
“Probably because they got their supporters’ attention quite early, or the donors are faithful to tradition and the Swiss identity. Young people prefer to give to organisations that are active elsewhere in the world.”
They might have different motivations but they all have a desire to share and to give thanks for life. “There’s also this general feeling in Switzerland that one should give to the less well-off,” Torelli added.
All NGOs devote a significant part of their website to bequests and wills, with detailed documentation, forms and types of will. This, they say, is responding to requests from members.
Shocking? Not really, but it is delicate, Darwish says. “It’s true that you’re mixing death and money. Some people accuse us of looking to get our hands on inheritances, but most people who contact us – and with whom we have interesting and moving meetings – have a particular course in life and don’t have any immediate family. As a result, we never have problems with other heirs.”
This is confirmed by Costin van Berchem, vice-president of the Swiss Solicitors Federation, a partner of MyHappyEnd.
“Unlike English-speaking countries, many countries in continental Europe – Switzerland included – make provision for a reserved amount of money which protects the heirs and the immediate family and fixes a maximum threshold.”
He admits, however, that there can be a certain apprehension when discussing death.
“You talk about your body with your doctor, so you can talk about these things perfectly well with your solicitor. But it’s true that it can be hard to think about one’s own death and the consequences of it for those around you. I’d say it depends a lot on the person.”
Van Berchem adds that he always asks his clients whether they want to include a donation in their will.
2002: Founded in Britain by the association “Remember Charity” by state-owned charities to encourage people to remember them in their wills.
2010: Foundation of the Swiss branch of MyHappyEnd.
16 members: Swiss Catholic Lenten Fund, Amnesty International, Salvation Army, Fairmed, World without Mines, Pestalozzi Children’s Village, Rega air rescue, Greenpeace Switzerland, Rheumatism League Zurich, Doctors without Borders, miva Switzerland – aid transport, Pro Natura, Swiss library for the blind and partially sighted, SOS Children’s Village Switzerland, Terre des hommes, WWF Switzerland.end of infobox
(Translated from French by Thomas Stephens), swissinfo.ch