China overcoming traditional taboo on writing wills
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.