Ask Korea Law

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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.  Under 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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[Q&A] Leaking Employer’s Confidential Information and Employment Termination : What Is Confidential Information under Korean Law?

“Hello, I am a U.S. citizen working for a Korean listed company.  Recently my company sent me a dismissal notice saying I had breached the employment contract by leaking their confidential information.  Informations at issue are a set of sale/purchase statements of the company.  I downloaded those informations from the company’s server to my personal email account.  But, there has been no warning mark of confidentiality.  My other colleagues have a free access too, and the information sometimes was provided to our suppliers.  Did I really breach the confidentiality of my Korean employer?”  

Leaking employer’s confidential information could result in a termination of the employment contract.  The legal issue, however, still remain whether or not the information can be regarded as a confidential information.

Most employers in Korea have their own rules of employment which state what is a confidential information.  And even an employment contract could list a set of confidential informations which the employee should not disclose to 3rd parties.  But, defining what is a confidential information is a matter of law and, therefore, the Korean court does not always follow the definition which an employer had been set in their internal documents.

The Korean court has well-established precedent that the confidential information should be Continue reading


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Classifying a Foreign Incorporated Corporation as a Domestic Corporation for Korean Tax Purposes: “Actual Business Management Place” Rule

그림 67When a foreign incorporated company does a business in Korea, it is very fundamental to determine whether the company is a domestic or a foreign corporation for Korean tax purposes.  A major difference in tax liability is that, in principle, a foreign corporation is liable for taxes only on the incomes generated in Korea rather than a worldwide income.

In this regard, the Corporate Tax Ac of Korea(“CTA”) defines a “domestic corporation” as a corporation with its headquarter, main office, or actual business management place located in Korea, and a “foreign corporation” as an organization which has its head office or principal place of business in a foreign country.  What makes distinguishing domestic corporation for a foreign corporation under CTA difficult and challenging is the meaning and application of the term of “actual business management place” set forth in CTA.  For example, in a case decided by the Supreme Court of South Korea in 2016, a Singapore incorporated company had challenged the Korean tax authority’s decision that its actual business management place was in Korea.

The Singapore company had a wide variety of international business portfolio and among them was a trading foreign issued corporate bonds including a Korean corporate bond.  The Korean tax authority decided that the company’s actual business management had taken place in Korea after finding the facts that the company had a liaison office in Korea, one of the directors was residing in Korea and financial documents relating to the Korean business was stored and managed in Korea.  And this Continue reading


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[Q&A] Can I Enforce My Washington State Child Support Ruling in Korea?

(Question) I have a question regarding my current situation with my ex husband. He is a Korean national and working there in South Korea.  I lived there until 2014 when I came back to Washington and filed a divorce complaint here. Since then he has refused to speak with me.  This year my US lawyer duly served him with the paper but he just kept ignoring it.  At any rate, I got a divorce decree and child support ruling for my baby this April.  Now I am wondering how I can enforce my US ruling in Korea, knowing that he is living a  luxurious life and feels that he can just ignore his child and the responsibilities that come with it.

(Answer) I have to say there is something unclear in this case.  If the court proceedings in Washington(WA) court have been duly made, i.e. (i) the WA court had proper jurisdiction and (ii) he was duly served, you can apply for its execution in Korea to the Korean court. Otherwise, you may initiate whole process de nuvo in Korea.  The second threshold seems to have been met here. Thus, the real issue here rather be the first one.

Please note that the jurisdiction must be acknowledged in the view of Korean law, not WA law. Thus, even though the WA ruling says the WA court has a proper jurisdiction, the Korean court will 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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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