Can there be an impairment of legitime of forced heirs? A compulsory heir is a mandatory successor of the deceased who has a reserved portion in the testator’s estate, an heir by operation of law. Such reserved portion is called Legitime.
Article 886 of the Civil Code defines Legitime as that part of the testator’s property which he cannot dispose of because the law has reserved it for certain heirs who are, therefore, called compulsory heirs.1 Compulsory heirs are classified into primary and secondary. Primary compulsory heirs have priority over secondary compulsory heirs.2
Primary compulsory heirs composed of legitimate children and their legitimate descendants, surviving spouse, and illegitimate children and their descendants, whether legitimate or illegitimate.3
Secondary compulsory heirs composed of legitimate parents and other legitimate ascendants (they inherit only in default of legitimate children and their descendants), and illegitimate parents (they inherit only in default of legitimate or illegitimate children and their respective descendants; other illegitimate ascendants are excluded).4
Primary compulsory heirs exclude from the inheritance the secondary compulsory heirs while the latter heirs are entitled to inherit only in the absence of the primary compulsory heirs.5 Note however that if the decedent is an illegitimate child, his illegitimate parents are only considered compulsory heirs if he died without any descendants, whether legitimate or illegitimate.6
The will would be essentially void if the decedent passed away without primary compulsory heirs but left all of his property to a stranger by universal title, even if his legal parents were still alive. This is because his parents, who are secondary compulsory heirs, were left out.
No to Impairment of Legitime
The Philippine law on succession guarantees that compulsory heirs will receive such reserved portion or legitime of the estate of their predecessor regardless of the latter’s wishes. There can be no legitime in the absence of compulsory heirs.
The testator cannot deprive the compulsory heirs of his or her legitime except in cases of valid disinheritance. Neither can the testator deny the compulsory heirs their legitimate rights by giving them less than the amount that the law reserves as their lawful share or by distributing the estate in a way that would lessen or devalue their legitimate claims.
The testator cannot also impose any conditions, substitutions, or burdens on the legitimate except the condition that the estate will not be divided for a period not exceeding twenty (20) years.7
In such situations where the will of the decedent specified an insufficient amount to his compulsory heir’s rightful legitime or the insufficiency results from a testamentary disposition which is later on found to be inofficious, the affected compulsory heir may file a claim to have his or her legitime rights fulfilled or to have the disposition that is impairing his or her lawful portion of the decedent’s inheritance reduced within the remedies enshrined under Articles 906 and 907 of the Civil Code.
Completion of Legitime
Any compulsory heir to whom the testator has left by any title less than the legitime belonging to him may demand that the same be fully satisfied.8 It is a remedy utilized when a mandatory or forced heir is not preterited but was denied the entirety of his or her legitime.
Article 906 of Civil Code is also the rectifier whenever a surviving spouse was not given anything in the will or by intestacy since she cannot claim preterition under Article 854 of the same code.9 This remedy privided under Article 906 of the Civil Code must not be confused with preterition under Article 854 thereof.
Preterition or pretermission is the omission, whether intentional or not, of a compulsory heir in the inheritance of a person.10 For example, if a testator has five legitimate children, and he institutes only four of them, such omission of the other compulsory heir is called preterition.
In such cases, as when absolutely nothing is given, the heir concerned is entitled not only to the completion of his legitime but also to the annulment of the institution. This is particularly true if the heir concerned is deliberately omitted from the will or his existence is deliberately concealed.11
Compulsory heir not forgotten
In completion of legitime under Article 906, the compulsory heir is not completely forgotten, he/ she is just deprived of the full amount entitled to him/ her. For instance, if Tommy is a compulsory heir and he is entitled to a legitime of Php600,000, but in the will of his predecessor, he had been given just merely Php450,000, he may demand that the lacking amount of P150,000 be given to him.
In this case, Tommy is not entitled to ask for the annulment of the institution of heirs since the remedy is not preterition where the heir gets nothing. In this case, Tommy is not completely forgotten. Hence, he is just entitled to completion of legitime under Article 906.
Disposition by any title
It must be emphasized that Article 906 uses “by any title” in describing the disposition of the property given by the testator to the compulsory heir who is prejudiced. Therefore, it follows that the testator may not have disposed of the property in the will itself, but rather through some other gratuitous title, such as by way of donation, while he or she was still alive.
This property was given to the compulsory heir by the testator, but it is insufficient to cover the legitime of such heir. Consequently, whether the property had been disposed of by will or by way of donation, the same rule applies; the remedy of the heir who is prejudiced is to demand for the completion of his legitime.12
Reduction of Inofficious Testamentary Disposition
If the testator disposed of his estate in a manner that impaired or diminished the legitime of compulsory heirs, the latter may petition to demand that those dispositions be reduced or abated to the extent that they may be inofficious or excessive.13
Article 907 of the Civil Code is the remedy whenever a legacy/devise or even an institution impairs the full amount of the legitime of a compulsory heir. The reduction of these dispositions will only be to the extent that the legitime is impaired.14
This remedy can be availed of only by the compulsory heirs. It applies solely to testamentary dispositions and therefore not to donations inter vivos. A donation is inofficious if it impairs the legitime of compulsory heirs.15 Articles 771 and 772 of the Civil Code deal with the reduction of inofficious donations.16
The testamentary dispositions described in the aforementioned article include all legacies, devises, and other charges that can be applied to the disposable free share of the hereditary estate, in addition to those that are made in favor of voluntary heirs.
These testamentary dispositions are deemed invalid or inofficious if they exceed the disposable free component of the hereditary estate and hinder the legitime of compulsory heirs. Accordingly, such inofficious testamentary dispositions must be reduced on petition of the compulsory heirs who are prejudiced. Articles 911 and 912 of the Civil Code regulate the procedure for such a reduction.
Freedom of Gratuitous Disposition | Limited
Under our system of compulsory succession, the testator’s freedom of disposition is limited by the fact that he cannot make any gratuitous disposition of his property, whether by an act inter vivos or by an act mortis causa, which would impair the legitime of his compulsory heirs.17
This principle, crystallized in Art. 904 of the Civil Code, is complemented by Art. 752 thereof, which declares that no person can give by way of donation more than he can dispose of by will.18
Violation of the principle in cases of donations inter vivos shall pave the way for the remedy provided for in Art. 771 of the Civil Code; violation of the principle in cases of donations mortis causa or testamentary dispositions shall pave the way for the remedy provided for in Art. 907 of the Civil Code.19
The donation is inter vivos if it takes effect during the donor’s lifetime or independently of the donor’s death, in which the full or naked ownership of the donated properties passes to the donee during the donor’s lifetime, not by reason of his death but because of the deed of donation.20
If the donation is made in contemplation of the donor’s death, to which the full or naked ownership of the donated properties will pass to the donee only because of the donor’s death, then it is at that time that the donation takes effect, and it is a donation mortis causa which should be embodied in a last will and testament and shall be governed by the rules established in the Title on Succession.21
In a donation mortis causa, the right of disposition is not transferred to the donee while the donor is still alive.22 Crucial in resolving whether the donation was inter vivos or mortis causa is the determination of whether the donor intended to transfer the ownership over the properties upon the execution of the deed. In ascertaining the intention of the donor, all of the deed’s provisions must be read together.23
To better understand inofficious testamentary disposition, an example is hereby rendered as follow:
Supposing upon the death of Tommy, he left a will containing only one disposition which states that he is giving a legacy, his friend Larry in the amount of P80,000. Tommy has surviving relatives namely Via, his legitimate child and Lyza, his illegitimate child.
Suppose that Tommy had left a total estate worth P200,000.00, the computation of respective legitimes of her compulsory heirs will be rendered as follow: for Via her legitime will be P100,000.00, while for Lyza the legitime is P50,000.00 since the legitime of the illegitimate child is taken from the free portion of the estate.
If in compliance with the wish of testator disposing P80,000 to his friend Larry from the free disposal, the legitime of Tommy’s illegitimate child, Lyza will be impeded. Hence, such inofficious disposition to Larry must be reduced from P80,000 to P50,000 only although the amount of P80,000 is expressly prescribed by the testator in his will.
Allowable Impairment of Legitime
As a general rule, legitime consists of a fraction of the entire mass of the hereditary estate expressly reserved by law for the compulsory heirs as a matter of right protected thereof. However, certain changes in legitime or deemed impairment thereof24 may be allowed in the following cases:
Article 1083; prohibition on partition
“Every co-heir has a right to demand the division of the estate unless the testator should have expressly forbidden its partition, in which case the period of indivision shall not exceed 20 years as provided in article 494. This power of the testator to prohibit division applies to legitime.”25
Article 1080; legitime in cash instead of partition
“Should a person make a partition of his estate by an act inter vivos, or by will, such partition shall be respected, insofar as it does not prejudice the legitime of the compulsory heirs. A parent who, in the interest of his or her family, desires to keep any agricultural, industrial or manufacturing enterprise intact, may avail himself of the right granted him in this article; by ordering that the legitime of the other children to whom the property is not assigned, be paid in cash.”26
Article 159, Family Code; prohibition of partition of family home
“The family home shall continue despite the death of one or both spouses or of the unmarried head of the family for a period of 10 years or for as long as there is a minor beneficiary, and the heirs cannot partition the same unless the court finds compelling reasons therefor. This rule shall apply regardless of whoever owns the property or constituted the family home.”27
- Article 886, Civil Code of the Philippines
- See 2017 Paguirigan 1st Ed., p. 144
- See 2004 Sempio-Dy, pp. 30-31
- See 2004 Sempio-Dy, pp. 30-31
- Supra, Note 1
- Article 870, Civil Code of the Philippines
- Article 906, Civil Code of the Philippines
- See 2010 Mison 2nd Ed., p.262
- Article 854, Civil Code of the Philippines
- See 2008 Paras 16th Ed., p.357
- See 2009 Jurado 9th Ed., pp. 308-309
- See Heirs of Estella vs. Estella, G.R. No. 245469, December 9, 2020; Article 907, Civil Code of the Philippines
- See 2010 Mison 2nd Ed., p. 263
- Heirs of Estella, Supra.
- See 2008 Paras 16th Ed., p. 358; Articles 771 and 772 of the Civil Code
- See 2009 Jurado 9th Ed., p.310 citing Manresa 7th Ed., pp. 448-449
- See Rabuya, p.634; Art. 729, Civil Code of the Philippines
- See Art. 728, Civil Code of the Philippines
- Heirs of Estella, Supra.
- Spouses Gestopa v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 111904, October 5, 2000
- Mison, Supra.
- Article 1083, Civil Code of the Philippines
- Article 1080, Civil Code of the Philippines
- Article 159, Family Code of the Philippines