Inheritance quarrels break families

By Quang Huong   September 23, 2023 | 08:05 pm PT
Family discord over inheritance is increasingly leading to violence and lawsuits in Vietnam.

Mai Hoa, 37, from the Mekong Delta province of Dong Thap, said she and her family were forced to move out of their home only three days after her father passed away because her uncle wanted to take the land lot her father inherited from her grandmother.

"My grandmother stated in her will that my father would inherit a 250-meter-square piece of land from her, while my uncle would have a 150-meter-square lot and another plot of land," Hoa said.

"But my uncle told me to give him the ownership certificate and transfer the ownership to him in three months."

Hoa turned down her uncle, saying that her father was the one who legally inherited the land from her grandmother and paid the land value tax. Thus, she and her siblings were the legal inheritors after her father passed away, she said.

"But he still forced us to move out."

Hoa’s mother passed away just a few months after her father did. The woman and her siblings had to move to HCMC and rent a home instead of living in their family’s old house.

Hoa cannot even visit her father’s house now without notifying local police as she is afraid her uncle will hurt her.

According to local courts, fights over inheritance have become increasingly common over the past few years, with many of them starting off as minor fights and then escalating to bigger clashes, including some that have led to severe physical and emotional violence.

Local courts estimate that fights over inheritance have become more common over the past few years. Photo illustration by Unsplash

Local courts estimate that fights over inheritance have become more common over the past few years. Photo illustration by Unsplash

Hung, from the northern Hai Duong province, accidentally broke his cousin’s arm during a fight over inheritance last year.

As his parents passed away when he was a child, Hung’s grandparents lived with his uncle. Consequently, they stated in their will that they would let his uncle’s son inherit their 3,900-meter-square property after they passed away, aiming that the land could serve as a financial resource for Hung’s uncle’s family and contribute to expenses the family would have to pay for the two elderlies.

But that’s not how things ended up playing out, according to Hung.

"My uncle’s family forced my grandparents to move out and threw their belongings into the street after they got the ownership certificate of the land," he said.

"The neighbors notified me over the phone, and I got into a fight with my uncle’s son after coming back. I broke his arm during the fight, though that was not intentional."

Hung’s cousin then ended up being arrested by local police for fighting and constituting a breach of the peace, while his grandparents then rejected their relationship with his uncle’s family, dividing the large family into two factions.

"My uncle didn’t even join my family when we held the commemoration of my father’s death," he said. "His four daughters didn’t invite me to their wedding ceremonies either."

The situation is partly the result of how making a will to divide one’s properties is still considered an unusual thing to do in Vietnam.

Lawyer Le Hong Hien, member of the Hanoi Bar Association, said it is undeniable that not everyone in Vietnam is creating a will while they are still alive. Among those who do, dividing the rights and responsibilities among their children unfairly, or based on rituals instead of based on laws, is also popular. For example, a common "rule" in dividing properties among the children is to prioritize the sons over the daughters.

These are the foundations of many fights among family members over inheritance, some of which even end up with wholly broken families squabbling pitifully in court.

Both the material and mental consequences of such fights, even when the cases do not end up in court, can be immense.

They have been so for Hoa.

"I will never give them [my uncle and his family] a hand when something bad happens to them," she said. "To me, they have become estranged."

Meanwhile, those that take their battles to court, like in the case of Hung, may exchange their whole future for something that they cannot even eventually put a hand on.

"My cousin has spent three months in custody," he said. "I don’t know how he will end up yet, since a trial for him has not been held."

But there is one thing that Hung already knows: his cousin’s and his nephew’s future are changed forever. Despite now having a bad relationship with his uncle’s family, Hung still feels pity for his nephew.

"It may be hard for him when he is about to get married in the future [since the woman’s family may not want to have an imprisoned in–law]," he explains.

"So, don’t exchange your kids’ and grandkids’ futures just for a piece of land."

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