Monday, May 16, 2016

Case of the Day: In re Estate of Byung-Tae Oh, 2016 N.J. Super. LEXIS 71 (N.J. App. Div. May 13, 2016)


This is a lawsuit between two children of a decedent, who is a Korean national. Prior to death, the decedent transferred $900,000 to a New Jersey corporation, controlled by the younger son of the decedent. The older son sued, claiming that they were entitled to equal share of the inheritance under Korean probate law, and the $900,000 remained as decedent's property to be submitted to probate. The younger son argued that the transfer was a gift.

The court found that the transfer was an investment, not a gift. The court first noted that there is a chicken-and-egg jurisdictional issue, in that the underlying dispute directly affects the question of jurisdiction. (That is, if the transfer was a gift, New Jersey courts would not have jurisdiction to adjudicate this issue.) The court found that in such a case, the jurisdictional determination comes after the underlying dispute is resolved.

The defendant also argued that Korean law should apply rather than New Jersey law. The court rejected this argument, finding that the defendant did not show that applying Korean law would result in a different outcome. Finally, the court held that the transfer was an investment because the inter vivos transfer recipient had the burden to establish that the transfer was a gift, and the defendant had no documentation to meet the burden.


I will admit--transnational family law disputes are my pet favorites. It has all the complexities of transnational litigation, and none of the coldness in the disputes between one giant multinational corporation versus another multinational corporation with their high-powered lawyers. 

The interesting part here is the possibility of a conflicts of law decision. More skilled counsel may have been able to exploit the angle, but here it appears that the argument was not fully developed.

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