Give spouses better inheritanceThe South Korean Civil Act is expected to be revised to strengthen the rights of spouses to inheritance, allowing a surviving spouse to claim half of the statutory inheritance before he or she shares it with children. Following traditional Asian customs, the priority of inheritance has been given to direct descendants - mainly children and grandchildren. An increased share for spouses can help senior citizens survive amid Korea’s poor social security in a quickly aging society.
The Justice Ministry’s special committee on inheritance has agreed to revise the Civil Act to reserve half of the deceased’s statutory estate for the surviving spouse to claim 50 percent more of the remaining portion he or she would share with the children. Under the current law, the children and the spouse share an equal proportion of the inheritance in the absence of a will. If two or more heirs exist of the same rank, their shares are equally divided, but the portion inherited by the spouse is 50 percent greater than the share the children get. The size of this share is dependent on the number of children the couple had.
The revision would give the spouse priority in half of the estate, plus 50 percent more in the remaining portion he or she would share with the children. For a remarried couple, the court would have to decide the inheritance proportion according to the length of the marriage.
The legal change to inheritance is advisable considering the fast growth of the senior population. By 2026, people aged 65 and over will account for 20 percent of the Korean population. Korea’s pace in the growth of poverty among senior citizens is also the fastest among the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries.
It’s hard for a surviving spouse, especially in the case of a woman who has lived most of her life as a housewife without her own earnings, to muddle through her years alone. In today’s society, elderly parents can no longer rely on children for support.
The spouse’s increased right to inheritance will help ease the lives of elderly people living alone. The inheritance clause has long been outdated. A Korean housewife today is already entitled to half of the estate in an agreed divorce. The 50 percent incentive long ago lost its legal rationale. The law should be revised to guarantee what the spouse rightfully deserves.
Various systematic measures must be amended and modified to keep pace with the country’s aging population. Side effects can be addressed when they occur. Laws and systems must be rewritten to accommodate an aging society.