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How Does Inheritance Work in China? - CFM 101 Series

Mon, 20 Dec 2021
Contributors: Meng Yu 余萌
Editor: C. J. Observer


If a person dies, his/her heirs can inherit the property.

During the lifetime, one can specify in the will who inherits his/her house and other heritage.

If the person has no will, the decedent’s children, spouse, parents, siblings, paternal grandparents, and maternal grandparents may inherit his/her estate.

This post was first published in CJO FAMILY, which is committed to providing consulting services in China-based cross-border family matters services, including marriage and succession.

Under Chinese law, the former is called Testate Succession, and the latter is called Intestate Succession ((also referred to as “Legal/Statutory Succession”).

In another article “How Much Does the Average Person Inherit from their Parents in China?”, we used a fictional story as an example to introduce how inheritance works in China.

1. How Inheritance Works When There’s a Will

Anyone may, by making a will, dispose of his/her estate to any organization or individual and designate the inheritance.

In other words, in China, you can determine who inherits and how much by appointing the heir among the statutory heirs, such as your spouse, children, parents, siblings, paternal grandparents, and maternal grandparents.

In addition, you may, by making a will, donate your estate to the State or a collective, or an organization or individual other than your statutory heir.

2. How Inheritance Works When There Isn’t a Will

In China, it is regarded as the intestate succession compared to the testate succession.

If there is no will, the estate of a decedent shall be succeeded in the following order:

(1) first in order: spouse, children, and parents.

(2) second in order: siblings, paternal grandparents, and maternal grandparents.

When succession opens, the heir(s) first in order shall inherit to the exclusion of the heir(s) second in order. The heir(s) second in order shall inherit the estate in default of any heir first in order.

The right to inheritance is equal no matter what the sex is and whether they are the children born in or out of wedlock.

3. Are heirs responsible for the debts of the estate?

If the heirs are to inherit an estate from the decedent, the estate should be used to pay the decedent’s taxes and debts before it’s partitioned.

If the entire estate cannot cover the taxes and debts, they shall be paid to the extent of the estate. And the heirs are not responsible for the remaining taxes and debts.

Heirs who disclaim inheritance assume no responsibility for the payment of such taxes and debts.

However, if the estate is used to pay the taxes and debts, a necessary portion of the estate shall be preserved for any heir who has neither the ability to work nor the source of income.

4. What happens when heirs disagree?

An heir who disclaims an inheritance shall manifest his decision in writing after the opening of the succession. In the absence of such a manifestation, he is deemed to have accepted the inheritance.

An estate with neither an heir nor a claim to inherit by the heirs shall be escheated to the State for public interest purposes.

Where the decedent was a member of a collective organization at the time of his death, the estate shall be escheated to the collective organization. This rule mainly applies to the deceased whose registered residence (‘Huji’ in Chinese) is in a rural area.



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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Photo by zhang kaiyv on Unsplash

Contributors: Meng Yu 余萌

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