Published 21 January 2019, The Daily Tribune

Imagine this situation: A wealthy Filipino family’s patriarch meets his untimely demise leaving behind a large amount of property. From this estate, the family derives most, if not all, of their income. As the deceased father’s estate was the source of this family’s prosperity, it is of extreme importance that said properties be retained within the immediate family.

Things take a dark turn when a hand-written will, undoubtedly signed and dated months before the death of the deceased appears. Within the will, the deceased named only one heir to all of his estate: a non-relative.

In this situation, to whom does the family run towards to protect their interests so that they may not be prejudiced by the actions of their deceased family member? Thankfully for them – and all families facing difficulties settling their loved one’s estate – the Philippine Civil Code provides very strict rules on who may receive property from a deceased relative.

The process by which property transfers from a decedent to a qualified person is governed by the Philippine Civil Law on Succession. The process of succession may be further classified into three distinct classes. In the order of what takes priority over the other, these are: Compulsory Succession, Testamentary Succession, and Intestate Succession.

Compulsory Succession

By the mandate of Compulsory Succession, the deceased person is obligated to leave behind a certain portion of his or her estate to specified relatives at the moment of death. In the above situation, let us assume that the deceased father of the family left behind a widow, one son, and one daughter. Under the law, the whole value of the deceased’s estate must be accounted for and half of such value is to be given to his legitimate offspring. As there are two legitimate children in this situation, they are required by law to divide equally among themselves the half of the deceased’s estate. The widow, under Compulsory Succession, is also entitled to the same amount corresponding to the share of one legitimate child. Therefore, applying these rules, the widow and her two legitimate offspring are entitled to 1/4th of the estate each.

All is well and good up to this point and only 3/4ths of the total estate has been transferred. To approximate the realities of succession, assume that there suddenly appears an illegitimate child of the deceased who has conclusively proven his paternity. Is he entitled to any compulsory share?

The Civil Code also has this situation covered. It ordains that an illegitimate child is entitled to ½ the share of a legitimate child. As applied in our example, where the legitimate child received 1/4th of the estate, the illegitimate child has the right to claim 1/8th of the property left behind by his father. Summing up the distributed portions, what is left of the estate is 1/8th of the total value. This undistributed value, or in all other cases, the so-called “free portion of the estate,”may be disposed of through a will under the law on Testamentary Succession.

Testamentary Succession

Testamentary succession actually involves three important steps. These are, in chronological order, the probate of the will, its interpretation, and finally, its execution. We have covered these steps in previous articles.

As pointed out, in drafting a will, the testator should keep in mind that there should be no exclusion or much less reduction of the share of compulsory heirs. Secondly, its provisions should not go against public policy nor a testimonial disposition amount to a crime. Any provision found to be contrary to law or public policy shall be deemed as not written in the will.

Is a testimonial disposition granting a property to a common-law spouse valid? The conveyance of property gratuitously to a common-law spouse is jurisprudentially recognized as an act contrary to public policy. To be exact, it is prohibited by law as it is a circumvention of a direct provision which disallows donations to a common- law wife, read together with the doctrine that what cannot be done directly cannot be done indirectly.

If the testimonial disposition is found void or in the absence of testamentary disposition, how then will the undistributed portion be dealt with under the law? The answer lies under the last recognized method of succession.

Legal or Intestate Succession

In Legal or Intestate Succession, the law deals with the remaining portion of the estate undisposed by compulsory succession and undistributed by will. Under this mode of succession, the concept of Compulsory Succession is mirrored. Those who are deemed compulsory heirs will once again receive their corresponding share of the remainder of the estate. This final process finally disposes of the entirety of the estate and ends the process of succession.

Final consideration

It is both a policy of the State to let the property of the deceased pass to his or her rightful heirs and, in the same breath, to respect the will of testator. Fealty to the principles of succession law ensures harmonious implementation of these twin policies. Further, and perhaps most importantly, the clear-cut legal disposition of property minimizes, if not totally obviates, intra-family dispute. After all, prevention is better than cure not only when it comes to health, but also in terms of preserving one’s wealth.

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