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One’s Testament Needs Seal: Court

Posted March. 31, 2008 03:03,   


Kim, who ran a social welfare facility, left a legacy of 12.3 billion won when he passed away in November 2003. He died unmarried. The legacy was kept in a bank safe, and a few days later, a will handwritten by Kim was discovered.

Written in the will was his message that he would donate all his property under his name to Yonsei University as a fund for the advancement of social service in Korea, together with the date, address and his name. But the fact that Kim’s will lacked his seal triggered a controversy.

Yonsei University argued that the legacy belongs to the university since the will was handwritten by Kim himself. But seven members of Kim’s family, including his brothers, argued against the school’s claim and filed a suit against the bank requesting the repayment of the deposited amount in December 2003.

Both the trial and appellate courts ruled that the will “is not valid if it misses a seal.” In September 2006, the Supreme Court also confirmed the lower courts’ decisions. Faced with the risk of losing the donation worth 12.3 billion won, Yonsei University appealed to the Constitutional Court a month after the Supreme Court decision.

The Constitutional Court judged in favor of Kim’s family on March 28, saying, “In Korean society within the Asian culture, it is a customary practice to use seals when carrying out legal conducts. Considering that a handwritten will has a high risk of being counterfeited, the provision requiring both a signature and a seal does not violate the constitution.”

While eight of nine justices made such a decision, Judge Kim Jong-dae presented a dissenting opinion: “Nowadays, people tend to just write their signatures because of the heightened possibility of seal forgery. Requiring a seal in addition to a signature violates the rule of minimum intervention.”