Last Will and Testament with Litigation in China

Last Will and Testament

  • Applicant: Ms. Zhao
  • Nationality: Chinese
  • Case Type: Last Will and Testament
  • Time: 1 month
  • Challenges:
    1. Litigation is in China
    2. Judge needs U.S. lawyer written statement
    3. Previous wife has old will from husband’s previous marriage
    4. No second Last Will & Testament to represent husband’s current wishes
    5. Having to read through the entire court case to review arguments

BACKGROUND

A last will and testament is meant to simplify things for those that you leave behind. It is meant to be a clean, simple, and easy way for your loved ones to deal with the legal ramifications of your death in a time where the last things they need are complications or legal battles. However, life regularly takes our plans, flips them on their head, spins them around, and sets them off running in the wrong direction. That was unfortunately the case for Mr. and Ms. Zhao. Mr. Zhao passed away and left behind his wife, Ms. Zhao, who was in China. Ms. Zhao wanted to inherit his assets, as is usually the case. However, Ms. Zhao was not Mr. Zhao’s first wife, she was his second wife. His first wife, Ms. Chang, flew from California to China to contest Ms. Zhao inheriting his assets because she had a Last Will & Testament from their marriage saying that she and her daughters were the rightful inheritors. This claim prompted a court battle in China, which is when it was brought to us by the litigation attorney in China.

KEYS TO SUCCESS

We were hired onto the case by our client and her attorney in China. The first hurdle in working international cases like these is getting to a place where everyone understands all the applicable laws in all the countries involved. This is why this case was brought to us at all, the Chinese judge needed a written statement by a lawyer in the United States explaining their thoughts on what Ms. Chang was attempting to do. If Ms. Chang was making this case in California, it wouldn’t have been a case at all. Under California law, when your life circumstances change greatly, your previous will becomes invalid. The Last Will and & Testament Ms. Chang was trying to pass off as binding was from when she was married to Mr. Zhao. At the time, it would have been completely reasonably for Mr. Zhao to include Ms. Chang and her daughters in his will. Since then, he had gotten divorced from her and had married Ms. Zhao.

“We were hired onto this case through a referral. The Chinese judge wanted a written statement by a U.S. lawyer explaining this will. We examined the will, we examined both sides court statements, and we were able to debunk the claims against our client being the rightful inheritor of Mr. Zhao’s assets. The death of a loved one is already painful enough, there really didn’t need to be any legal proceedings about inheritance in this case.” – Joseph Tsang, Attorney

However, because the judge in China was not necessarily aware of this part of California law, he wanted a written statement from a U.S. lawyer on whether or not the will that Ms. Chang was in possession of was valid or not. It was important because while it is assumed that Mr. Zhao would have wanted his possessions and assets to go to Ms. Zhao, he did not actually create a new Last Will & Testament during his second, current marriage. Ms. Chang had her own attorney pointing out that the Last Will & Testament that Mr. Zhao had signed had his signature, it was a valid document. That argument and the lack of second will was the basis of their entire argument.

While this may have had the effect of looking like it strengthened Ms. Chang’s case, in reality the lack of a second will was a non-issue. Under California law, which is where Mr. Zhao and Ms. Chang lived when they were married and where Mr. Zhao signed his will, the massive change in life circumstances meant that his previous will was already invalid. It was essentially like he had no will at all the moment he got divorced and remarried. Even if his old will was at one time a valid will, which it certainly was when they were married, it was no longer valid despite what Ms. Chang and her lawyer were arguing.

OUTCOME

We were able to provide a legal opinion to the court in China stating that California laws stated that Mr. Zhao’s Last Will & Testament was invalid because his life circumstances had changed. His divorce and remarriage constituted those changes, and unless they could get another U.S. attorney to sign a letter stating that those laws were somehow not in effect, their claim that Mr. Zhao’s will was still valid was incorrect. The litigation in China ended soon afterward. We were happy that Ms. Zhao no longer had the uncertainty of litigation hanging over her at what was already a difficult time in her life.

*Name has been changed to protect client identity

Original Content

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