The Inheritance Chapter of the Civil Code (Mainland China)

Di Wu

On May 28, 2020, the National People’s Congress adopted and promulgated the Civil Code of the People’s Republic of China, which will go into effect on January 1, 2021.  In particular, the Inheritance Chapter contains amendments expanding the scope of heirs and inherited assets, as well as adding forms of wills.

1. Expansion of the scope of inherited assets

Article 3 of the previous Inheritance Law defines inherited assets to include a citizen’s income, house, savings, and household items; a citizen’s trees, livestock and poultry; a citizens’ documents and books; the means of production that the law permits a citizen to own; and a citizen’s economic rights over their copyrights, patents, etc.  Article 1122 of the Civil Code stipulates that inherited assets are considered the legal personal property left behind by a natural person at the time of death.  The Civil Code removes the scope of enumerated property and maximizes the protection of the heir’s rights, making it possible to inherit internet property, cryptocurrencies, etc.

2. Expansion of the scope of heirs

Article 1228, Paragraph 2 of the Civil Code provides that if a brother or sister of the decedent died before the decedent, the children of the decedent’s brother or sister will inherit by way of subrogation.  In this fashion, in the absence of other heirs, relatives such as nephews and nieces can inherit by way of subrogation.

3. Notarized will do not have legal precedence

Article 1142 of the Civil Code stipulates that a testator may withdraw or amend the will he or she has made.  After making a will, if the testator engages in acts under civil law that are contrary to the contents of the will, it shall be deemed as a revocation of the relevant part of the will.  If there are several wills with contradictory contents, the latest will shall prevail.  Notarized wills no longer have legal precedence; instead, the last legally made will shall prevail, which better protects the decedent’s intent.

4. Addition of new forms of wills

Article 1136 of the Civil Code provides that the printing of a will shall be witnessed in person by two or more witnesses.  The testator and the witnesses shall sign each page of the will, indicating the year, month and day.  Article 1137 stipulates that a will made by audio and video recordings shall be witnessed in person by two or more witnesses.  The testator and witnesses shall record their names or images, as well as the year, month, and day in the audio and video recording.  This addition therefore adds printed and video/audio wills as new forms of wills.

5. New circumstances where heirs may lose inheritance rights

Article 1125 of the Civil Code stipulates that an heir shall lose his or her inheritance if he or she commits any of the following acts: (1) murder of the decedent; (ii) murder of other heirs in competition for the estate; (iii) abandoning or mistreating the decedent with aggravating circumstances; (4) forging, falsifying, concealing or destroying a will with aggravating circumstances; or (5) forcing, by fraudulent or coercive means, the decedent to make, change or withdraw a will, or hindering the decedent from doing so with aggravating circumstances.  Compared with the previous provisions of the Inheritance Law, the Civil Code has added the concealment of a will and the circumstances where the inheritance right is lost if the decedent was forced or prevented from making, changing or withdrawing a will by fraudulent or coercive means.