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Why need a will in China? (Beijing)

A will is a legal document that states what a person wants to happen to his/her money and property after he/ she dies.

In recent years, issues concerning succession in case of death are becoming more common – especially for those who run a business or have purchased property in China. Many people know they need a will, but most people living in China do not realize the urgency for making a will. The inheritance arrangement under Chinese succession law is a surprise for most people.

The following case may help you to understand what will happen without a will.

Peter’s parents moved to China 20 years ago and he is the only child of his parents. His parents owned a house in China together with other property. His parents died without a will and peter assumed he can inherit all the property left by his parents.
However, this is not always the case.

Peter went to the real estate registration office to change the title of the house his parents left. To his surprise, he was told that providing the death certificates of his parents was not enough. He also needs to prove that 1) his paternal grandparents had died before the death of his father; and 2) his maternal grandparents had died before the death of his mother.
However, the fact is that his paternal grandfather (father’s father) died a few weeks later after his father’s death and his paternal grandfather also had a daughter named Mary.

So what will happen to the house left by Peter’s parents?

Since the house locates in China, it is clear that for the real estate located in China, the Chinese succession law shall govern the inheritance of the house. Article 10 of the Chinese Succession law provides that the legacy will be distributed following the rules below:
First in order: spouse, children, parents.
Second in order: brothers and sisters, paternal grandparents, maternal grandparents.
From the above arrangement, you may find that the Chinese succession law is different from the succession laws in most other countries. Parents are listed in the first order of successor. This arrangement may cause complication in the process of succession. In the above illustration case, after the death of Peter’s father, his paternal grandfather will inherit part of his father’s property. Then Mary, the daughter of his paternal grandfather, will in turn inherits part of his paternal grandfather property at the death of his paternal grandfather. Therefore, it is evident that Peter can not inherit whole of the property left by his parents.

Article 10 of the Chinese Succession law also caused procedural difficulties for inheritors such as Peter. In the above illustration case, to complete the succession procedure, Peter needs to provide heavy documents to complete the procedure. The documents will include:
1)death certificate of his father
2)death certificate of his mother
3)death certificate of his paternal grandfather
4)death certificate of his paternal grandmother
5)death certificate of his maternal grandfather
6)death certificate of his maternal grandmother
7)Kinship certificate of Mary, his father and paternal grandparents
For the documents originated from outside China, Chinese authorities usually require the documents to be legalized, meaning they should be notarized in its original country and certified by Chinese embassy or consulate. This could be a huge burden for inheritors, especially for the deceased located in different countries and died in a wide range of period.

To avoid the above situation, it is strongly suggested to make a will under Chinese laws to define the distribution of China-based assets in the event of any misfortune.

For more information, you may contact David Gao, a Chinese lawyer .
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