Ask Korea Law

Published by Chung & Partners Since 2008

Introduction to the Korean Inheritance Law


When a person is deceased in Korea, the inheritance comes to fruition immediately.  The Korean inheritance law provides who shall become the inheritor and beneficiary of the property of a deceased person, i.e. estate.  This, however, does not always mean the inheritor shall be given all the property of the decedent.  There are separate rules and restrictions of the distribution of the estate in Korea.

The basic rule of the Korean inheritance law is that the property of a deceased person is distributed according to his or her will.  So, a person who is not categorised as a person who can be an inheritor by law can be a beneficiary of the property by the decedent’s will.  What if there is no valid will?  The Korean inheritance law sets forth the rule of intestate succession.  This rule of intestate succession names the beneficiary and the shares of each beneficiary for a distribution.  The intestate succession rule provides that persons become beneficiaries in the following order:

  1. Direct descendants (children or grandchildren)
  2. Direct ascendants (parents or grandparents)
  3. Siblings
  4. Relative within the 4th degree of collateral consanguinity

If there are multiple persons standing in the same rank, the closest in degree of relationship shall have the priority.  And if there are multiple persons in the same rank and same degree of relationship, they become co-inheritors and co-beneficiaries.  The shares of the co-beneficiaries are all equal.

The spouse has a unique position here.  If there are no relatives in the first and second rank, the spouse shall become the sole inheritor.  If there is any inheritor(s) in the first or second rank, the spouse shall become the co-inheritor with that inheritor(s).  As to the intestate succession share, the Korean law provides more protection to the spouse.  According to the Korean intestate succession rule, the spouse shall have 50% more share than those of other co-inheritors.  For example, if a deceased leaves a spouse, 2 children and his parents, the 2 children and the spouse shall become the co-inheritor with each child having 2/7 of the estate and the surviving spouse having 3/7 of the estate.

As mentioned earlier, this rule of intestate succession only applies when there is no valid will of decedent.  Does this mean the decedent can dispose the estate freely by his own will?  The answer is not always.  The Korean inheritance law recognizes a reserved share, i.e. statutory minimum share of the succession which is obliged to go to an inheritor.  This means any inheritor is able to claim an inheritance despite what the decedent have written into the will.  By this statutory reserved share, the decedent’s freedom to making a will is restricted.  Currently, the reserved share under Korean inheritance law is 50% of the share of an estate which an inheritor would have received in the case of intestate succession.  So, in the above example, even if the deceased person made a will which names his friend as the sole beneficiary, each child is still entitled to 1/7 of the estate, and the spouse is entitled to 3/14 of the estate.

Most of inheritance disputes in Korea center on executing or contesting the will and enforcing the reserved share.  We have seen many cases where Korean-based family of the deceased person requests the non-Korean family to sign a certain legal document to handle the succession process in Korea, not fully disclosing the situation of the estate and even providing false information about the law and practice.  This could harm the transparency of the whole process of distribution and cause a financial loss to the foreign party who is lack of sufficient and reliable information on the Korean inheritance law.  Inheritance law is a complicated area of law in Korea.  Thus, It is a good idea to seek legal advice from a Korean licensed attorney before you take any legal action.

If you have any question about this article, please visit our Legal Consultation center or send your inquiry email by clicking here.  Our Korean licensed lawyer will answer your inquiry.

Also you can find more articles and court cases on the Korean inheritance law and practice by clicking here.

Choice of Laws Is Critical When It Comes to an International Inheritance

[Q&A] As a Korean Adoptee Living in the U.S., Do I Have an Inheritance Right to My Biological Father in Korea?

[Q&A] Do I Really Have to Give up My Inheritance Share as Other Korean Heirs Claim?

© Wonil Chung, Korean Licensed Lawyer.  All rights reserved.

Author: Korean Qualified Lawyer

Korean Licensed Lawyer 韓国の弁護士

13 thoughts on “Introduction to the Korean Inheritance Law

  1. Hello, I was adopted to a family in America. My birth Father is a businessman in Seoul and my birth Mother is married to a businessman/entrepreneur. We have all recently reconnected but I wonder if I am entitled to any inheritance under Korean Law. My birth Father has a boy and girl and my birth Mother never had any other children. I am more focused on building our relationship right now but just curious if I should expect anything or travel to Korea or hire a lawyer should someone pass away. I would never have the courage to ask them outright since I was raised by my adopted parents to never discuss money because it’s gauche. I don’t follow that advice with my own children but am relegated to begging for help on message boards because I don’t have any Korean friends who I can ask.
    Thanks in advance for any help you may provide!

    • Hello
      Thanks for contacting our office.
      It depends on whether your adoption was a simple adoption or a full adoption. If it was a simple adoption which doesn’t cut the original parentage, you are entitled to the inheritance.
      Please find an article on our previous case which could be similar to your situation:
      Hope this is of any assistance.

  2. Pingback: [Q&A] As a Korean Adoptee Living in the U.S., Do I Have an Inheritance Right to My Biological Father in Korea? | Ask Korea Law

  3. Pingback: Choice of Laws Is an Essential Matter When It Comes to an International Inheritance | Ask Korea Law

  4. Hello,

    I am a foreigner who studies law in Europe. I have been dating a Korean citizen for quite some time and I worry about her future after her father dies.

    While her father is not in immediate danger I am concerned that he may be contracting debts right now without the knowledge of his family. He is in a very dark place and has stopped earning a revenue.

    I would like to know who will inherit his debts after his passing and how my girlfriend and her mother, still married to the husband, can avoid paying these debts.

    Thank you very much for your help.

  5. I have same issue when I red it

  6. This has happened a long time ago and came into surface recently. MY grandmother had some assets under her name and had no will when she passed away. so then my grandma’s sister forced my grandfather when he was drunk to sign a contract (which he wasn’t really sure about) that says that he will give up his share of the inheritance. However, my grandma has four kids, including my mum and they weren’t aware of any of this. They did not sign anything and this was already more than 15 years ago. MY grandfather passed away about 10 years ago and my mum and my aunts did not receive anything. is it possible for my grandaunt to take all that away with just my grandfather’s signature? is there nothing my mum and my aunts have a say? can we open a case for this now?

    • Thanks for contacting our office. We had replied to your inquiry by an email. Please let us know if you have further questions.

  7. this is an interesting article.

    if husband has debt with bank does his estate pay back debts on bank loans before guarantor of the loan??? or does debt move direct to guarantor?

    • The inheritance law does not provide nor change the priority. It is all down to the matter whether the guarantor agreement and related clauses in Civil Code recognize such priority.

  8. My father and mother married while they lived in Korea years ago. As they moved to Brazil, they recognized their marriage in Brazil as well. foe=r some 30 years, my father has been living in Southe Korea, while my mother and my 2 sisters continued living in Brazil. 3 months ago, my mother deceased, leaving no will. I traveled to Korea some 3 years ago, and discovered my father had many estates worth some good money, I wanted to know, if I have any rights over the properties that were from my father and mother (since they never divorced). My mother´s death has beed directed to the korean consulate in Brazil 1 and a half months ago. I´d like to say that I, and all my sisters are in the family tree docs in Korea. Thanks in advance.

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