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Grave consequences
(China Daily)
Updated: 2009-08-25 08:54

Grave consequences

The battle over former cross-talker Hou Yaowen's fortune is the talk of the town and illustrates the fact that not enough people make a will before they die.

It has been more than two years since Hou, son of cross-talk master Hou Baolin, died of heart failure at the age of 59.

"This case is full of changes and hard to predict," says Zhang Xi'an, vice professor in civil and commercial law at Northwest University of Politics and Law.

"The difficulty lies in providing proof of property, such as the collections of watches and paintings, so it will take a long time to compile an accurate list of Hou's assets.

"If Hou Yaowen had bothered to make a will, things would be totally different," Zhang says.

Hou's case is not an isolated one. In China, death is taboo and often people think making a will could presage their death.

"When people are healthy and get along well with their family members, they are reluctant to talk about wills," says Chen Hong, vice chief judge of Shuangqiao Court in Chaoyang district, Beijing.

A person's dying words are often accepted as their final wish. Former chairman Mao Zedong, for instance, died intestate, merely telling successor Hua Guofeng on his deathbed: "With you in charge, I'm at ease."

"In China, the number of people making wills is way too small," says Song Jian, a lawyer with Sinosource Law Firm in Beijing. "One reason is the lack of knowledge of the law in terms of succession."

This is not the case in the West, Song says.

Bill Gates, for instance, made his will in 2003, pledging to leave his fortune to charity rather than give it to his children. Rupert Murdoch, the media mogul, said in an interview in 2006, that he has also made his succession plans.

Changes are taking place in China though. Song Jian says that there has been an increase in the number of people making wills.

"In 2008, I made nearly 30 wills for clients, three times more than in 2005," Song says.

"I have found there has been increasing concern about making a will. Most of these people are in their 60s or 70s. They may have heard of family disputes from neighbors or on TV programs and want wills to avoid family disputes. These people always have more than one child."

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