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(Case Review) What You Should Know about International Inheritance in South Korea – Statutory Share, Contributory Share and Special Benefit

(Case)

I am a U.S. citizen.  I currently have a very complicated inheritance case in South Korea.  My father passed away 10 years ago in the U.S. and his two Korean half brothers in Korea are currently suing my family for my father’s portion as well as my father’s sister’s portion as she passed away many years ago.  They are claiming they want 60% of my fathers portion and all of my aunt.  There is no will left by my grandfather.  They are claiming that they took care of the grandfather who was a Korean citizen.  However, when my father was alive he also sent money regularly to his father and his half brothers but as it was more than 10 years ago I am uncertain how to proceed.

(Review)

Inheritance gets more complicated when it has some sort of multinational issues.  Here the Korean heirs sued the U.S. heirs at the Korean court.  The deceased was a Korean national and it is probable that the majority of the estate is located in Korea.  That might be the one of the reasons why this case should be litigated in Korea, not the U.S.

Governing Law Issue

In an international inheritance case, we first need to find out which country’s law shall apply.  As this case was filed with the Korean court, the Korean court decides this issue pursuant to their own choice of law doctrines.  According to the Korean choice of law, the law of the deceased’s country shall become the governing law.  That means, in our case, the Korean Inheritance law shall apply. (Please refer to this article regarding the basic of Korean Inheritance law) Continue reading


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Patent License Agreement in Korea – What Happens to Royalty Payment When the Patent Later Becomes Invalidated

Korean Law OfficeThere is no doubt that intellectual property is a valuable asset and parties all around the world are dealing with an arrange of utilizing 3rd party’s intellectual properties.  Sometimes it could be a license or sometimes a transfer.  In any case it is very important to verify the validity of the underlying intellectual property before entering into a contract.  As for a patent, first it looks relatively simple compared to other intellectual property such as a copyright to clear this issue because a patent is being registered with the Korean Intellectual Property Office.  The registration, however, does not guaranty the validity of the patent at issue.  It can be challenged later by 3rd party and could be nullified by the court’s decision.  Then what happens if the patent becomes void after the license agreement is entered into?  The Korean Patent Act provides that if a court’s decision invalidating a patent becomes final and conclusive, the patent shall be deemed never to have existed.  Then what happens to the royalty previously paid by the licensee?  Does the licensee can refuse to pay the royalty after the patent gets invalidated and even ask for the refund of the royalties previously paid pursuant to the patent license agreement?  The Supreme Court of Korea said No.
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Choice of Laws Is Critical When It Comes to an International Inheritance

Korean LawyerRecently our office has represented US clients whose German father had passed away in South Korea without any will.  At the time of passing, the deceased was domiciled in Korea and remarried to a Korean wife.  The Korean wife contacted the US family out of blue to discuss how to distribute the estate in Korea.  The US clients were the children from the deceased’s previous marriage in the US.  They contacted our office for the legal advice and representation.

One of the issues was which country’s inheritance law shall be applicable, i.e. the Korean inheritance law or the German inheritance law.  This was because the deceased had a foreign nationality, while his estate and residence at the time of passing were all in Korea.  Practically, when the Korean law is applied, the US children shall be entitled to the larger shares than those granted under the German law.

In Korea, Article 49 of the Korean Act on Private International Law(“APIL”) is the starting point to determine which country’s law shall be the governing law in case of an international inheritance case.  It provides that Continue reading


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

Q) I am a Korean adoptee that lives in the U.S.  Recently I found my biological parents died in South Korea.  He is survived by his wife and 2 sons.  He had businesses in Korea.  Do I have a right to claim an inheritance to his estate?  I have never met or spoken to his wife and sons and so I don’t know if he had a will written.  What are my rights?

A) Based on your explanation, I am of the opinion that you are entitled to the inheritance to your deceased Korean father.  The law of your deceased father’s home country shall govern your inheritance claim.  Under Korean law, assuming he is survived by his wife and 2 sons, your inheritance share will be 2/9. (Please click here for a general overview of the Korean inheritance law)

You will need to file 2 suits with the Korean court.  The first one will be a paternity suit and the second one will be a inheritance claim suit.

Actually I have been dealing with a very similar case.  She was adopted to American family when she was young from Korea and asked our office to claim her inheritance to her deceased Korean biological father.  We won the paternity suit Continue reading


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

Q) My mother passed away a few months ago. There was no will. She was a Korean citizen and her husband too. All two children live in US. As we understand I have inherited a 2/7 share of my mother’s condominium and some cash in Korea. My stepfather and his Korean lawyer seem to up to no good. They both have sent conflicting and in my opinion false information to me. Especially his lawyer is threatening me that I would not able to sell my share so I had no choice but to give up or transfer my share. The stepfather asked me to sign POA and a Renunciation of Inheritance but I refused. Can you give any advice?

A) As your deceased mother was a Korean, the Korean inheritance law shall be the governing law in Korea(Please click here for general overview of the Korean inheritance law).  Under the Korean inheritance law, you and other heirs had already become the co-owners of the condominium and the bank assets of the deceased.  You have no reason to give up your share nor transfer the share to the stepfather as he advised.  The stepfather’s lawyer alleged that Continue reading


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[Case Report] Attorney Wonil Chung Wins for Expat’s Korean Severance Entitlement – Foreign Employers Cannot Circumvent Severance Liability through a Contract Manipulation

There are so many foreign expats working in Korea.  As you know well, Korean labor law recognizes a severance liability of all employers in Korea regardless of the size of their business and also the nationality of the employee(check here as to how the the severance pay under Korean law is recognized and operates).  This also applies to the foreign employers such as Korean branches of foreign companies.  The problem is that some foreign employers are ignorant of their severance liability under the Korean law.  Even further, some foreign employers try to evade from their severance liability.  Sometimes they provide wrong information such as “foreigners are not entitled to the Korean severance” to their staffs, designate a foreign law as the governing law of their labor contracts, and have their staffs in Korea enter into the employment contract with their non-Korean entity such as a head office in the U.S. or a Singapore branch.  Those attempts, however, are all meaningless in a sense that regardless of those, they are still liable for the severance pay.  Actually, we have represented foreign employees for their Korean severance claim against the Korean branch and recently we won the case.

This case involved the expats working as ship inspectors in Ulsan Gorgon project.  We filed the severance suit on behalf of Continue reading


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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

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