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No Support, No Inheritance

Posted September. 28, 2010 13:11,   


In the popular Korean TV soap opera "Shining Inheritance" last year, the aged CEO of Jinsung Food wrote in her will that she would bequeath her wealth to non-relative Goh Eun-seong. The CEO believed that Eun-seong, a woman of integrity, would keep her inheritance better than the CEO`s spendthrift daughter-in-law or less trustful grandchildren. In the real world, however, the CEO`s family would get part of her estate. The national civil code is based on blood relations. Even if one says he or she wants to give everything to someone other than relatives in a will, a certain portion of the deceased`s assets is supposed to go to the bereaved family. In other words, Eun-seong in real life would get half of the inheritance and the rest would go to the CEO`s family.

A parent, spouse or child, however, might not be able to inherit money from a relative if he or she does not bear the responsibility of support over a certain period of time. The Justice Ministry said it needs to overhaul the family relations system and will confirm the revision by the first half of next year by forming a committee to revise family law. The revision will prevent someone who avoided supporting his or her parents to inherit their wealth or a parent who abandoned his or her child to take the money allocated to the child.

The mother of the late Petty Officer 2nd Class Jeong Beom-gu, whose son drowned in the sinking of the Cheonan, said on her son’s mini homepage, "I got divorced when my son was a year old and raised him alone without any financial support and alimony, but my ex-husband, who didn`t care about his son, took away the money." When the late Senior Chief Petty Officer Shin Seon-joon was two, his mother left him after his parents divorced but took 100 million won (87,100 dollars), or half the compensation for her son`s death, just because she was his next of kin. His father sued her in court, saying, "A single penny cannot be wasted because the money is worth his life."

Until the "hojujae," a patriarchal family registration system, was abolished in January 2008, only those listed in the register were considered family members. As the revised law was implemented, however, the category of family includes not just the spouse, parents, children and siblings but also the spouse of parents and children, the spouse`s parents, children and siblings who earn a living together. The civil code stipulates that relatives have a responsibility to support each other among husband and wife, their parents and children, their spouses, and other relatives who earn a living together. Inheritance without support to a family tied by marriage or blood is simply not fair. Free riders will disappear in inheritance, too.

Editorial Writer Kim Sun-deok (yuri@donga.com)