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What can be done with a will written in NJ when most of the assets are in China and most the beneficiaries are in NY/NJ?

Hoboken, NJ |

My grandmother, when living in NJ years ago, had an attorney draft a will. She died a year ago in China. Almost all her assets are in China. The named executor lives in China. She had one son and three daughters, all of whom except one daughter lives in the NY/NJ area. The will is very ambigously worded. The son claims that he is to receive almost all of the assets, while an alternative interpretation gives him just 25%. He has refused to even sit down to discuss the matter. What legal actions can be taken in the US, e.g. will construction, a declaration whether the English or the Chinese version of the will controls?

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Attorney answers 3

Best Answer

You will need to file 2 separate probate actions: one in the United States and one in China. In the United States action, you will need to ask for a declaratory judgment interpreting the ambiguity of the will.

You also to file for probate in China because that is were assets are located.


The problem I see is that nothing you do in the US may be binding in China, where most of the assets are. I think you need to follow the money and have someone in China assist you.

You might try to have the attorney sign an Affidavit as to what the intent was, when the Will was drafted. That way, if something ever happened to the attorney, that testimony would be preserved. It might have an impact in China, as well.

James Frederick

*** LEGAL DISCLAIMER I am licensed to practice law in the State of Michigan and have offices in Wayne and Ingham Counties. My practice is focused in the areas of estate planning and probate administration. I am ethically required to state that the above answer does not create an attorney/client relationship. These responses should be considered general legal education and are intended to provide general information about the question asked. Frequently, the question does not include important facts that, if known, could significantly change the answer. Information provided on this site should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed attorney that practices in your state. The law changes frequently and varies from state to state. If I refer to your state's laws, you should not rely on what I say; I just did a quick Internet search and found something that looked relevant that I hoped you would find helpful. You should verify and confirm any information provided with an attorney licensed in your state.


I am slightly confused about how many wills exist since you are stating that there is English version or Chinese version. The last will, presumably, the Chinese version would be controlling will. I need to know if Grandmother was living in NJ for sometime prior to going back to China. If she was not a resident of New Jersey, I believe that your only course of action would be to file a probate action in China. Did the son in China probate the Chinese-verison of the will? I am not familiar with Chinese probate law and their notice requirements that may or may not be required son notice potential beneficaries (since the will does mention the three sisters I presume.) I think filing a New Jersey probate action will not be successful.



The attorney drafted the English and Chinese version simultaneously without specifying which controls and which is a translation. The Chinese version appears to be a rough translation with discrepancies. The will declared that Grandma was a resident of NJ. The son, who lives in NJ/NY, has been avoiding the whole thing. My question was more about the full range of legal actions that can be taken in the US where most of the beneficiaries are and the laws more predictable.

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