Foreigners may inherit property in China.
(Note: Chinese with foreign permanent residence permits may also inherit the estate located in China. Procedures applying for foreigners would apply here in a similar way.)
(1) What documents are required for foreigners to inherit property in China?
Firstly, the death certificate.
The succession opens(begins) provided that the decedent is dead, so the certificates to prove the identity and death of the decedent are required.
The qualified death certificates include the death certificate issued by the hospital, the cremation certificate issued by the crematorium, relevant documents of the residence deregistration issued by the police station, etc.
If the decedent dies outside of China, the death certificate must be notarized and authenticated in the country where the decedent dies, and attached with Chinese translation, before it can be used in China.
Secondly, kinship certificates.
In the case of intestate succession, you need to prove that you are entitled to inherit the decedent’s estate by proving that you have a kinship with the decedent.
In general, the kinship certificates include birth certificates, marriage certificates, household registration materials, and other documents.
Thirdly, the inheritance certificate.
This certificate is to prove the scope, attributes and value of the estate, such as bank deposit receipts, share certificates, real estate certificates, patent certificates and so on. These documents will serve as the basis for the distribution of the estate.
(2) What are the methods for inheriting an estate?
There are two major methods for foreigners to inherit the estate located in China, namely notarization and litigation.
In the event that there is no dispute between successors over the estate, you may bring relevant documents for succession notarization at a Chinese notary public. Then you may take the notarization certificate to go through relevant formalities for the estate distribution, such as the transfer of housing ownership, the distribution of bank deposits, etc..
In case that there is any dispute between successors over the estate, you may file a lawsuit over the inheritance with the court. After a court trial, you and other successors may go through relevant formalities for the estate distribution pursuant to the binding court judgment or settlement statement.
(3) If there is any dispute between successors over the estate, which court shall the successors institute an action before?
The successors shall bring the case before the court in the place where the decedent was domiciled at the time of his/her death or where the principal part of the estate is located.
(4) After inheriting the property within the territory of China, can a foreign successor transfer the property overseas?
The answer is YES.
China implements a foreign exchange control system to supervise cross-border capital flows. However, pursuant to China’s foreign exchange laws and regulations, after the realization of his/her legally inherited property, the foreign successor may exchange foreign currencies through a bank and remit the money in foreign currency abroad after fulfilling the formalities required by relevant foreign exchange administration departments.
(5) Do foreigners need to come to China in person to inherit the estate in China?
The answer is no.
You can entrust a Chinese lawyer to handle all matters related to your succession in China.
(6) How to apply the law where a foreigner inherits an estate in China?
Intestate succession shall be governed by the law of the place where the deceased person resides at the time of his/her death, however, the intestate succession of immovable property shall be governed by the law of the place where such immovable property is located.
A testament, which is made in compliance with the law of the place where the deceased person resides, the country of the testator’s nationality, or the place where the act of testament is carried out in force at the time of making the testament or the time of the testator’s death, shall be valid.
The validity of a testament shall be governed by the law of the place where the testator resides, or the law of the country of testator’s nationality in force at the time of making the testament or the time of death of the testator. Matters concerning the estate administration shall be governed by the law of the place where the estate is located.
The ownership of an heirless estate shall be governed by the law of the place where the estate is located in force at the time of the death of the decedent.
The Cross-border Family Matters 101 Series (‘CFM 101 Series’) provides an introduction to China-related cross-border family matters (marriage and succession), and covers the knowledge essential to cross-border family matter management.
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Contributors: CJO Staff Contributors Team