China: Inheritance in China: Key Issues

Last Updated: 13 December 2018
Article by Lisa Qin

Inheritance is regulated by the PRC Inheritance Law which took effect on 1 October 1985, and a judicial interpretation issued by the Supreme People’s Court in November 1985. While the rules are not complicated by themselves, in practice they give rise to various questions and issues, especially when it involves a foreigner with assets in China or married to a Chinese spouse.

General Regulations

Under the PRC Inheritance Law, assets shall be inherited in priority by the following parties:

  • First level of priority: spouse, children, parents
  • Second level of priority: brothers and sisters, (paternal & maternal) grandparents

A principle of Chinese inheritance law is that the successor(s) of the first level shall inherit to the exclusion of the successor(s) second in order. Only when there is no successor at the first level, then the right of inheritance goes to the successor(s) of the second level.

In addition, successors at the same level shall, in general, inherit in equal shares. Therefore, if say a foreigner living in China passes away, then property subject to Chinese law shall in principle be equally shared between this person’s surviving spouse, children and parents.

Entitlement of the Spouse

While in principle spouse, children and parents share equally, Chinese law also establishes another principle, namely that generally speaking, assets are jointly owned by the husband and wife. So if one passes, how should assets be divided among his/her spouse, children and parents?

According to the PRC Inheritance Law and unless other arrangements have been agreed in a pre- or post-nuptial agreement, half of the joint property acquired by the couple in the course of their married life shall be first allotted to the surviving spouse as his or her own property; while the remainder shall constitute the decedent’s heritage to be divided among the surviving spouse, children and parents. Further, if the decedent’s property is part of the common property of his/her family, then that portion of the property belonging to the other members of the family shall first be separated before dividing the decedent’s property.

So to answer that question, if say the wife dies and if we presume there are two children and the wife’s parents are both alive, the husband would be entitled to 1/2 plus 1/5 from the remaining 1/2 (this part will be divided equally by the husband, her children and parents), i.e., 3/5 of the total joint property  of the spouse.

We emphasize the term of  joint property here because the husband does not have any first allotment on property that belongs to the wife only. This mainly involves property that she owned before she got married. This would directly constitute her heritage and therefore should be divided equally among her husband, children and parents.

Applicable Law

The PRC Inheritance Law further establishes that the law of the place of domicile of the decedent shall apply in the case of movable property; in the case of immovable property, the law of the place where the property is located shall apply. We summarize what kind of property is subject to Chinese laws:

  1. When a Chinese citizen/foreigner inherits immovable property within China;
  2. When a Chinese citizen/foreigner inherits movable property of a Chinese citizen whose domicile is in China;
  3. For a Chinese citizen/foreigner to inherit movable property of a foreigner whose domicile is in China.

For a foreigner, the “domicile” refers to the place where he/she has lived for more than one year with proof provided by the local public security bureau. For a Chinese national, “domicile in China” is established if his/her household registration location is in China, or he/she has lived in China for more than one year with proof provided by the local public security bureau.

Conclusions & Take-Aways

  • While the above general rules are quite straightforward, in practice there are also many special situations (such as rights of stepchildren, widowed daughters-in-law or sons-in-law, etc.) and exceptions (such as circumstance in which the right of succession can be deprived) that may apply to a specific case. In some circumstances, Chinese law may not be the only law that applies which can also create conflict.
  • It is possible for someone to establish a division of assets that breaks from the established rules, by means of a well-drafted will which is notarized or witnessed. Planning for an inheritance is never nice, but especially foreigners that build up assets in China and/or that marry a Chinese spouse must be prepared for what one day may come.
  • Even if no special division is established, it is good practice to inform first level successors of their rights, especially if they are living outside China and are unaware of their rights as children or parents of a foreigner whose property is subject to Chinese law in case of his death.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Related Topics
Related Articles
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions