Inheritance Law in South Korea

Information on inheritance rights and duties, inheritance law and the legitimate portion in an inheritance...

If a foreigner chooses Korean law as the applicable law for his will, then the property is subject to a statutory legal reserve of inheritance. Korean law reserves portions of the deceased's estate for each qualified heir. Heirs can give up their reserve portion after the testator's death. The secured proportions granted to heirs are as follows:

  • Children: half of statutory inheritance
  • Spouse: half of statutory inheritance
  • Parents: one third of statutory inheritance
  • Siblings: one third of statutory inheritance

Statutory Inheritance

Normally, if a foreigner dies in South Korea without a will, Korean law will apply the inheritance law of the country where the foreigner holds citizenship. If a foreigner gains Korean citizenship and dies without a will, Korean inheritance law may apply. Inheritance of property occurs automatically at the time of death, and the person receiving the property inherits all of the rights and duties of the property from that time.

Priority of Inheritance

Persons inherit in the following order:

  • Direct descendants (children, grandchildren)
  • Direct ascendants (parents, grandparents)
  • Siblings
  • Other blood relatives (uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces, cousins)

If there are two or more inheritors standing in the same order, the closest in degree of relationship has the priority of inheritance. If there are two or more inheritors standing in the same degree of relationship, they become co-inheritors. With respect to the order of inheritance, an unborn child is considered as born.

If the deceased leaves a surviving spouse and children, any separate property of the deceased is co-inherited by the spouse and the children. If the deceased leaves surviving parents and a spouse, the parents and the spouse become co-inheritors. If there are no direct descendants or ascendants, the spouse becomes the sole inheritor.

Inheritance Tax

A person or a company that acquires property through inheritance or a will is subject to inheritance tax. However, an inheritor that is a for-profit company is exempt from inheritance tax because it must pay corporation tax instead. Inheritance tax covers all property bequeathed by a resident and all property in South Korea bequeathed by a non-resident. Foreigners may be subject to taxation in their home country in addition to South Korea. For further information on inheritance tax law in South Korea, a professional should be consulted.

Professionals

The need to consult professionals when writing a will depends on the type of will. An authentic will requires a notary public to write the will, but other types of wills do not require a professional. Nevertheless, it is wise to consult a lawyer on preparing a will and to discuss tax issues.

Note: If any discrepancies are found between the information in this page and the current Korean Codes, especially Tax Code, the terms of the current Korean Codes prevail.

Further Information

Information provided by Yun Je Lee, Associate Professor at Ajou University School of Law Attorney at Law in South Korea/California  ccsnu4@gmail.com