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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 father’s 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 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)

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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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Do I Really Have to Renounce Inheritance in Korea as Other Korean Heirs Claim?

Q) I have a question about whether to renounce inheritance in Korea. 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 the U.S. and they are U.S. citizens.

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.

They even said as I am not a Korean citizen, it would be much better renouncing inheritance for the sake of estate distribution. He said he will compensate me for my renounced share. Can you give me 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 a general overview of the Korean inheritance law.

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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

Under the Korean inheritance law, the inheritance comes to fruition immediately when a person is deceased.  The Korean inheritance law, the part V of Civil Act, 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 take every property from the estate.  There are separate rules and restrictions on the distribution of the estate in South Korea.

Who Shall Become the Heirs and How to Distribute the Estate under the Korean Inheritance Law

The basic rule of the Korean inheritance law is that the property of the deceased is distributed according to his or her will.  So, a person who is not categorized as an inheritor by law can become a beneficiary of the estate 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 purpose.  

According to the intestate succession rule, persons become beneficiaries in the following order.

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What to Expect When Dismissed by Employer in Korea

It is well known that the Korean labor law provides the employees with generous protections when it comes to the matter of disciplinary measures taken by the employer. Unlike many other foreign legal regimes, Labor Standard Act of Korea (LSA) requires the employer of five or more employees to establish a just cause for a dismissal and any other disciplinary actions.  In other words, the employment is not “at-will” in Korea.  (Note:  There is a legal concept of no fault dismissal based on the managerial hardship under the LSA, which requires very strict requirements to execute.  This will be the subject of our upcoming article) 

This rule of law shall equally apply to the employment contract between Korean employer and Foreign employee in Korea, and vice versa.  More importantly, this is the case even when the employee working in Korea agrees in his employment contract that the Korean labor law does not apply.  That is because the Private International Act of Korea which provides the general principles for the choice of law in Korea enables every Korean and foreign employee working in Korea to enjoy the very protections under the mandatory rules of the Korean labor law. Therefore, it is highly advisable that any foreign employee working in Korea and a multinational which has employees in Korea must understand how the Korean labor law regulates the dismissal and under what situation the dismissal becomes a wrongful termination.

Then What is the Just Cause for Dismissal in Korea?

The LSA does not provide what the just cause exactly means.  It is up to the court’s review and the decision thereafter.  That said, it is firmly established in the Supreme Court’s precedent that Continue reading


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[Q&A: Labor Law] I Work for Korean Branch of U.S. Company. My Employment Contract Provides U.S Law Shall Apply and Severance Pay Is Not Granted. Can I Still Get a Severance Pay Pursuant to Korean Labor Laws?

Question) I am an American citizen working in South Korea.  Originally I was working for a U.S. company incorporated in the state of New York, but 3 year ago I was seconded to the Korean branch of my U.S. company, and have been working for the branch until now.  When I was seconded, my new employment contract provided that the New York state law shall apply to my employment relation in Korea.  Now, my employment contract is expiring and I would like to know whether I am entitled to the severance pay under the Korean labor law.  I know my employment contract and my company’s policy do not provide the right to severance pay.  But, as I have been working in Korea for 3 years, I am wondering if the statutory rights of severance pay under the Korean labor law could be given to me.

Answer) The answer is Yes.  You are entitled to the severance pay under the Korean labor laws.  (check here as to how the the severance pay under Korean law is recognized and operates)  This answer could be accepted quite surprising considering the fact that the parties had previously agreed (i) the Korean labor should not apply and (ii) the severance pay should not be awarded.  How come the Korean labor law intervenes in the parties’ employment relation which is seemingly irrelevant to the Korean law implications other than the fact that work place of the employee is in Korea?  The answer lies in the provisions of Private International Act of Korea which provide the general principles for the choice of law in Korea.

When a legal relation has certain foreign elements, the court must decide which jurisdiction’s law shall apply to interpret that legal relation.  In Korea, the Private International Act provides the general rules and principles for the governing laws of the various types of legal relations.  Specifically, the Act provides that if the employer and employee agree to their own choice of law, the employment contract is governed by the law chosen by the parties.  But, this does not mean the parties can freely determine which law and regulations apply to their employment relation.  It is true in Korea that the party autonomy is a general principle of governing laws, but party autonomy is subject to limits imposed by the overriding public policy and mandatory rules.  Accordingly, Continue reading


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Attorney Wonil Chung Successfully Obtained a Supreme Court’s Ruling in a High-Profile Overture Sponsored Links Case Reinforcing Unrestricted Access to Internet Network

그림 2In April 2013, attorney Mr. Wonil Chung successfully obtained a Supreme Court’s ruling which overturned lower court’s decision in connection with the sponsored links, Internet keyword advertising services, operated by Overture Services Inc., a wholly-owned U.S. subsidiary of Yahoo! Inc.  Before this ruling from the Supreme Court of South Korea, there had been an increased controversy over whether Overture system user’s deployment of an automated program to access to the sponsored links could fall into a crime causing a harm to the Internet network system.  In this case, attorney Mr. Chung argued before the Supreme Court of South Korea that it cannot constitute a statutory crime, otherwise the result would be an over-reaching of Korean criminal statute and cause an excessive chilling effect on the free access to the Internet.  Responding to Mr. Chung’s arguments, the Supreme Court of South Korea held that it does not constitute a statutory crime of interference with stable operation of the Internet network.  With its ruling, the Court struck down the prosecutor’s attempt of excessive criminalization and reinforced online service user’s right of free and unrestricted access to the Continue reading


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[Q&A: Family Law] What Legal Rights Do I Have under the De Facto Marriage in Korea? – Introduction to How the Korean Law Treats De Facto Marriage and Its Resolution

Question) I am a US citizen and have been living with my Korean boy friend for about 3 years in South Korea.  We loved each other and agreed to marry, but we were so busy to have the legal process timely done and most importantly we found no need to do that.  We’ve just thought each other as husband and wife and so do our friends and families. While living together, he ran an Internet business and made a quite large profits from there.  I took care of every housework and sometimes I helped his business work, too. But, recently I found he had cheated on me. I was so shocked and got separated from him.  My concern is whether I have any right to the assets accumulated during our cohabitation, like a property division right between divorcing couple.

Answer) Under Korean law, in order to establish the marital relationship, the parties must report their marriage to the government.  Just having a wedding ceremony is not enough.  If the parties live together considering themselves each other’s spouse without reporting the marriage, it is called a de facto marriage.  A de facto marriage is not a legal marriage.  Thus it is not entitled to the same level of legal protection as the legal marriage.  But, when it comes to the resolution of the de facto marriage relationship, the Korean law applies almost identical protection to the parties.

First, the Korean law grants the right of property division to each party of the de facto marriage.  Each party is entitled to the share of the assets acquired during the relationship pursuant to his or her contribution.  Even if the party is solely responsible for the relationship breakdown, the person is still entitled to.  Second, a party can seek a consolation money against the other party, if the other party is solely responsible for the relationship breakdown.  The amount the party can seek is decided by various Continue reading