Imposing filial duty?
The Supreme Court set a legal precedent by obligating parental support if one does not want to lose inherited wealth from parents. The ruling commanding an uncaring son to return assets to his parents underscores the fading of Korea’s Confucian tradition of revering parents and upholding family duties if the court now must interfere in inheritance disputes stemming from neglect in supporting aging parents.
The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiff that the inheritance agreement can be nullified because the son had not kept his part of the deal of “dutifully supporting his parents” in a written agreement upon receiving his father’s house as inheritance. The highest court said civil law mandates that the blood family members and spouses have the duty to support one another, and therefore the son has the obligation of supporting his parents regardless of the inheritance agreement.
According to the ruling, the son changed upon inheriting a house and land from his father in 2003. While living together in the two-story house for 10 years, the son refused to share meals with his parents or talk to them. When his mother got sick, he wanted to send her off to a senior center. When his father proposed to sell the house so that the elder couple could live on their own, the son refused. The joke going around among retirees that they could be beaten to death if they do not give any wealth to their children, die of intimidation if they give partially, or starve to death if they give all may sadly have some truth in it. Lawyers are offering guidance service to write up contracts on filial duty. They advise how to appropriate real estate and cash assets and how the parents can be insured with due support. The legislature has motioned a bill to facilitate redemption of assets from offspring who do not fulfill their filial duties.
The legal and court actions may have been by-products of societal changes, but nevertheless leave a bitter taste in the mouth.
Is a society normal if it imposes filial duty? Must piety be bought? Will parents be satisfied if they punish their children for neglecting them and take back their wealth? What we need as much as the laws is renewed emphasis and education on virtues. We need to establish education on ethics so that our children will willingly support their parents without having to be obliged by contracts. We should all be ashamed of turning our society into one that must enforce filial commitments.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 29, Page 34
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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