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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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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