Elderly willpower gets a boost

Updated: 2013-07-09 07:11

By Yang Yang (China Daily)

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Rising personal wealth

The Law of Succession was enacted in 1985, when China still operated a planned economy and generally there was little private property. However, since then, living standards and personal wealth have risen tremendously. The concept of private property has expanded and now includes new items, such as Internet property, which are not included in the law as it stands.

Technological innovation is offering people more ways to draw up a will; the traditional pen and paper method still dominates, but wills drawn up via digital tools such as computers and voice- and video recorders are not legally binding.

Those anomalies have resulted in next year's proposed changes, but lawyers and the judiciary are still debating the content of the amendment, including the definition of private property and the legality of new ways of making a will.

Chen Kai disagreed with suggestions that one-third to one-half of the inheritance must be divided equally among the inheritors: "It's an outdated consideration, and in many cases it's unnecessary, because the people involved have already agreed that one of their number should receive the entire inheritance."

The point has proved to be a stumbling block for Wei Jinding's daughter-in-law: "Why does the law demand that the apartments have to be divided equally among everyone? That's unnecessary. We have been living in the apartment for ages and our brothers and sisters all have their own houses. To avoid any quarrels, my husband's father has decided to leave one of the apartments to us," she said.

Between 1990 and 2009, the number of inheritance cases nationwide averaged 20,000 every year, the People's Court Daily reported.

Yang Xiaolin said he has not seen any noticeable growth in the number of inheritance cases in recent years, but for his legal business, cases such as these are a promising growth sector.

However, Tan Fang in Shanghai said inheritance cases are increasing in number and complexity. In 2012, Shanghai No 1 Intermediate People's Court reported that the number of cases in the city has been rising at a rate of 20 to 30 percent every year. Shanghai and Beijing are among the cities with the fastest-aging populations, and Shanghai is reported to have the highest proportion of elderly people.

Tan said that recently she has dealt with a rising number of inheritance cases, and the identification of legal inheritors becomes far more complex if the testator or their survivors have emigrated. Another factor is that the scale of inheritance is growing as personal wealth increases.

When disputes over authenticity occur, the will bank, as the third party, can provide corroborative evidence, such as fingerprints, video testimony and signatures.

In days gone by, the Chinese did not make wills. Traditionally, the death of the "family manager", usually the father, resulted in a conclave of respected older people from the neighborhood, which supervised the division of the inheritance based on age-old rules.

Nowadays, the value of inheritances is rising, partly as a result of higher property prices, and the "big family" system has broken down because family members no longer share the same dwelling. In response, an increasing number of elderly people have decided to prepare formal wills to prevent arguments about inheritance.

"We didn't expect the will bank pilot to attract so much attention, but Chinese people are now changing their attitude toward making wills," said Chen.