Elderly willpower gets a boost

Updated: 2013-07-09 07:11

By Yang Yang (China Daily)

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'Virtual property'

In many countries, inheritance management is a mature concept. "When a testator makes a will, it is held by the law firm involved. When the testator dies, the lawyers notify the inheritors and execute the will," she said. "But Chinese law doesn't include the concept of a 'will manager and executor', which is something we lawyers have suggested for inclusion when the law is amended in 2014.

"In China, agencies notarize wills, but the wills aren't held by any specific organization; usually they are kept by the testator. The current law lacks clear identification of the testator and the extension of bequests. For example, it doesn't cover Internet inheritance, which includes 'virtual property' such as online stores, blogs and e-mail accounts owned by the deceased."

Yang said the Civil Procedural Law and Lawyer Law - the responsibilities and obligations of lawyers and law firms - limit the areas in which solicitors can operate, which often means they are unwilling to help people draw up a will.

"Usually people pay us very little to make wills; but guaranteeing the legality of the document requires a lot of work, including identifying the testator's mental state and verifying the inheritance, which is really complicated. It presents great risks to lawyers - risks that may only come to light in eight or 10 years, when the wills are executed," he said. "Notary agencies in China can perform those tasks."

"My firm charges 20,000 yuan ($3,260) to make a will, which usually scares people off. Besides, Chinese people are often unwilling to hire a lawyer to make a will. They often draft one on their own and if a dispute occurs, it's usually too late to turn to the lawyers. Without professional help, about 60 percent of wills in inheritance cases are judged by the courts to be invalid," he said.

Lawyers are also concerned that next year's amendment of the law will further complicate the legal procedures in the execution of wills.

Yang Xiaolin said the amendment may revoke the highest legal power of notarized wills and that "notary agencies will be just one of the ways to make a legally binding will, so that when there is a dispute over authenticity, more work will be required, even if the document has been notarized".