Chen Kai (left), director of the China Will Registration Center's management committee, explains how to draft and store the document to Gong Jinhua, 68, in Shanghai in November.
An increasing number of seniors in China are recognizing the importance of writing wills while they are physically and mentally healthy in order to avoid disputes and simplify inheritance procedures, according to a white paper released by the China Will Registration Center commemorating its fifth anniversary on Wednesday.
Launched in Beijing in 2013, the center is the country's only nonprofit organization dedicated to providing free consultations, registration and custodial services to local citizens aged 60 and above.
The center works with psychiatric organizations that perform mental health evaluations on seniors to determine if they are of sound mind when drafting a will.
More than 82,000 seniors aged 60 and above in the country have written and stored their wills at the center.
The white paper revealed an increasing awareness and willingness among seniors to draft and store a will.
This is partly reflected in the sharp decline in testators' average age over the past five years, from about 77.4 to 72.1, said Chen Kai, director of the center's management committee.
While avoiding family disputes is the main reason wills are made at the center, helping to simplify inheritance procedures is another important reason, the report said.
For example, among all the wills that have been made at the center, 47.7 percent are made by seniors with one child, whereas the proportion of those with two to three children is 43.1 percent.
"It used to be common sense that wills would help prevent children from contending for property against one another," Chen said.
"But now, more people with one child realize that the testaments can also be used to avoid family property losses if they die unexpectedly."
According to Huang Haibo, director of the center's Shanghai branch, which opened in November, "one in every two wills submitted to the court in China is illegal because of various reasons like no signatures or unclear signing dates."
Through the strict and professional registration system, which includes facial recognition, identity card reading and fingerprint scanning, a will stored in the center can provide legal support to reduce the time of property distribution after death, Chen said.
Most seniors give their property only to their sons or daughters, though about 13.3 percent leave their property to nonstatutory heirs, which mainly refers to grandchildren, due to reasons like a poor relationship with their children or remarriage.
"Almost no remarried elderly people distribute their property according to legal inheritance," Chen said. "Most leave property to their biological children, because they usually remarry for the companionship during their late years, not for financial reasons."
Interestingly, the data show that the number of seniors keeping their will registration from their children to avoid possible disputes or controversy has risen from 21.3 to 38.3 percent over the past five years.
Bao Huilin, a Shanghai resident with two sons, said she was grateful that the center has allowed her to leave her will and testament to her family without their acknowledgment.
"Thanks to the center, I can express my own wishes as to how my property will be distributed," said the 66-year-old.