Death of K-pop star, Goo Hara, reminds us the importance of having a valid Will

Anyone who is familiar with K Pop news would have heard about the death of K Pop singer Goo Hara, former member of Korean girl group Kara. Following from her death, a sad childhood of the singer came into light due to a legal claim brought forward by the singer’s mother under the Korean Inheritance law.

It was reported that Goo Hara’s mum abandoned her and her older brother when Goo Hara was only 8 years old and never cared for them or contacted them since the abandonment.  It was reported that Goo Hara’s mother subsequently gave up her legal parental and custodial rights in relation to Goo Hara and her brother in 2006. Young Goo Hara was subsequently cared by her older brother and her grandparents while her father was mostly away to work on construction sites in order to support the children financially.

Goo Hara was 28 when she died and having never been married, she did not have any surviving spouse or any children. Under the Korean Inheritance Law, if you die without a valid Will then the estate of the deceased will be distributed in the following order:

  1. Children (or grandchildren)
  2. Parents (or grandparents)
  3. Siblings;
  4. Relative within the 4 degree of collateral consanguinity

And if there is more than one person standing in the same rank then they share the estate equally.

Since the death of Goo Hara, Goo Hara’s father has given his share of Goo Hara’s estate to Goo Hara’s brother stating that he always felt guilty not being there for the children to support them emotionally as he was away from home working to support the family financially and the children had to rely on each other during his absence.

Currently, the singer’s mother has appointed a lawyer and filed a legal proceeding to claim her half share of the singer’s estate as the mother of the singer under the Korean Inheritance Law. The singer’s brother stated he is upset that the person who caused so much pain in his sister’s life now stands to benefit from her death and he vowed to defend his sister’s estate.

You may think there is injustice being served here if the Korean legal system grants Goo Kara’s mother a share of the singer’s estate. But as the Korean Inheritance Law currently stands, unless there is a different way of defining a ‘mother ‘ under the Korean Inheritance Law to exclude a mother who may have been absent from fulfilling a mother’s role during the deceased’s life, the Court must grant the mother the one half share of the singer’s estate.

Similarly in NSW, when a person dies without a valid Will in place, Succession Act 2006 (NSW) will determine as to how the deceased’s estate will be distributed. In NSW, distribution of the Estate will generally go first to the surviving spouse and if there is no surviving spouse then in the following order:

  1. children;
  2. parents;
  3. brothers and sisters;
  4. grandparents;
  5. aunts and uncles; and

The law does not take into account of the type of relationship you had with your family members when distributing your estate after you die. The only thing the Court will consider is how you are legally related to the deceased.

There are many similar cases in NSW. Recently there was a case where a father, who was abusive and had a history of domestic violence, was issued with Apprehensive Violence Order (“AVO”) to prevent him from approaching the son in order to ensure the child’s safety.

Soon after the Court’s AVO order, when the child was still very young, the mother divorced the child’s father and moved to Sydney. The child grew up and by the time the child reached his late twenties, having worked hard, accumulated wealth of his own and maintained a close relationship with his mother but the child did not have any form of relation with his father. His father never contacted the family and they lived separate lives.

Later the child, still in his twenties, died suddenly from an accident.  At the time of his death he was not married and did not have any children of his own.  The child, who was still young, never thought about having his estate planning in place and consequently did not have a valid Will at the time of his death.

The mother, in order to finalise her son’s estate, filed documents to the Court to be the administrator and the sole beneficiary of her son’s estate.

The Court informed the mother that when a person dies without a Will then law determines as to who the beneficiaries of the estate are. And in accordance with the Succession Act 2006 (NSW), as the deceased is not survived by a spouse or children, next in line to receive the deceased estate were the parents of the deceased. Therefore, both the father and the mother had to share equally in the late son’s estate.

The mother was devastated by the fact that the father who was abusive to her son, who took no part in raising him and lived his life as a stranger to her son during her son’s life now stood to benefit from her son’s death. However, the law is clear on this matter. The distribution of the estate of an intestate must be in accordance with the law and the law states that when a person dies and is not survived by any spouse or children then it is the parents of the deceased who are next in line to share in the estate of the deceased. The law does not look into kind consideration the parents had with the child. The fact you are the parent of the child is the only qualification that is needed under the Succession Act.

Every family has a different story and different relationship which is unique for that family however, the law does not take any of these factors into account when it comes to distributing the estate of a deceased person who died without a valid Will. The only way you can have certainty and control over what happens after you die is through having a valid Will in place.

Many will agree and recognise the importance of having a valid Will in place, but for most this is easily pushed down to the bottom of their ‘to do’ list. However as we currently experience a period of uncertainty and having more time to spend at home during this Coronavirus pandemic, maybe it is time to give some thought to your estate planning to eliminate some uncertainties and heartaches for your family.