China over­com­ing tra­di­tional taboo on writ­ing wills

The Nation - - OPINION&ANALYSIS - SUWATCHAI SONGWANICH CEO Bangkok Bank (China) For more col­umns in this se­ries please visit www.bangkok­bank.com

The tra­di­tional view in China that death should not be openly dis­cussed has meant wills and for­mal dis­cus­sions about in­her­i­tance have been some­thing of a taboo topic. Over the past few years, there have been signs that the na­tion’s se­nior cit­i­zens are be­com­ing more open-minded and are no longer leav­ing oth­ers to sort out their es­tate.

It is es­ti­mated that as few as one per cent of China’s es­ti­mated 220 mil­lion se­niors have for­mally doc­u­mented wills.

As fam­i­lies turn to lawyers to re­solve in­her­i­tance dis­putes, courts are be­com­ing clogged up and there are con­cerns about the neg­a­tive ef­fects on tra­di­tional so­ci­etal val­ues. To rem­edy these is­sues, the gov­ern­ment has called on lo­cal au­thor­i­ties through­out the coun­try to es­tab­lish free le­gal cen­tres for those over 60.

One char­ity that has been op­er­at­ing since 2013, the China Will Reg­is­tra­tion Cen­tre, has been in­stru­men­tal in help­ing older peo­ple un­der­stand the im­por­tance of draw­ing up in­her­i­tance plans and is now the largest provider of pro­bate ser­vices in China.

Young white-col­lar work­ers are also demon­strat­ing a grow­ing de­sire to doc­u­ment their last wishes, with a re­ported 30 per cent in­crease in the num­ber of peo­ple aged 30 and over who wrote a will in 2018, com­pared to the pre­vi­ous year.

While the shift to­wards in­di­vid­u­als want­ing trans­parency about what hap­pens to their as­sets or money after they die will grad­u­ally lead to more or­derly res­o­lu­tion of es­tates, it is un­likely to ben­e­fit the be­reaved chil­dren’s spouses. In a re­cent White Paper, the China Will Reg­is­tra­tion Cen­tre re­ports that nearly 100 per cent of those se­niors aided by the or­gan­i­sa­tion had ex­plic­itly stated that their sons- or daugh­ters-in-law should be ex­cluded from an in­her­i­tance. This is thought to be due to the high divorce rate in China.

Le­gal com­men­ta­tors have ob­served that in Thai­land, more peo­ple should seek ad­vice about their wills. Many peo­ple in Thai­land still don’t bother to write a will as they as­sume their prop­erty will au­to­mat­i­cally be in­her­ited by their heirs. But with many changes oc­cur­ring so­cially and le­gally – such as the 2016 in­her­i­tance tax law and the up­com­ing law on same sex civil part­ner­ships – I am sure this will change.

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