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With people becoming wealthier, efforts are being made to avoid inheritance disputes
Li looked reassured as he held his certificate from the China Will Registration Center, a charity organization that offers free advice to people over 60 looking to avoid family inheritance disputes by making a will.
The document proved the 83-year-old had deposited his will at the center"s Beijing branch. His heirs will be able to retrieve it only after his death, and they will have to abide by its instructions regarding their inheritance.
Until then, Li is the only person with access to the will, and he can make changes to it anytime.
Though silver-haired, he looks hale and hearty, as do most of the elderly at the center.
"I have no cardiovascular diseases or Alzheimer"s, and therefore thought little about making a will," said Li, who asked not to be fully identified. "But after reading about the free service at the center, I changed my mind and decided to finish the task while my mind is still clear. Otherwise, my children would have to go through a lot of trouble after my wife and I become less aware."
Since the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in 2012, the central leadership has repeatedly called for increased nongovernment involvement in social governance, including the welfare of the elderly.
Raindrop, an NGO in Jinan, Shandong province, initiated a program in 2016 to help tackle "empty-nest elderly" issues－which arise with parents whose children have left their hometowns－by organizing activities such as sports meets for the elderly.
Others noticed the seniors" legal needs. The China Social Welfare Foundation launched a program in 2015 to provide free will-making consultations for seniors in Beijing.
But the China Will Registration Center, founded in 2013, went a step beyond that. Chen Kai, who started the project, said that besides consultations, it also handles the drafting and safekeeping of wills－essential to avoiding legal disputes.
"During the will-making process, we adopt measures such as video recording and facial recognition to guarantee the will"s validity," Chen said. "By keeping the will at the center and confidential, aging parents can avoid family disputes before death. In extreme cases, children have been known to coerce their parents to make changes to wills.
"After a parent dies, heirs can take their parent"s ID card and death certificate and come to the center to see if they have preserved wills at the center. The center also cooperates with the courts and can provide evidence if legacy disputes do occur."
Chen, a 41-year-old lawyer, said a legally binding will has to fulfill a series of requirements including the format and content, which are nearly impossible for elderly people with limited means to handle. "When disputes arise, wills with loopholes would be rendered invalid," he said.
To deposit his will at the center, Li called to make an appointment for a consultation, where he had a face-to-face talk with his counselor. He was then given a computer-generated will in accordance with his desires that he then transcribed by hand to another piece of paper.
Finally, his handwritten will had to go through a review process, which normally takes two months at most, and he had to have a mental examination, either at the center or at a qualified hospital, to prove the will was made with his knowledge. The center has contracted the mental examination service out to a qualified organization, the Beijing Hexie Heritage Service Center, which charges 480 yuan ($75).
Funding for the center"s other services mainly comes from two charities, the China Aging Development Foundation and the Beijing Sunny Senior Health Fund, and government subsidies.