Successional Rights Battle | Who Will Win?
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Successional rights battle, who will win? As humans, we have this nature of protecting our rights and property as part of our self-preservation. Such that, in order to survive, a person needs to acquire property.

That is why most of our laws are about preservation of property, as it attaches to our life and liberty. Just like how it was discussed by one of the great philosophers in Europe, John Locke, who is famously known on his discussion on the man’s natural rights, which are the “right to life, liberty and property.”

For example, in order to plant a tree and harvest its fruits, one must retain ownership of the land. In order to build a house, one must first own a parcel of land. As a result, people were willing to kill and risk their lives for the sake of property in the name of self-preservation.

However, because this survival instinct is inherent in humans, our laws protect our actions in doing so as a justifiable circumstance. Following these, the rise in property regulations began. Then, when death occurs succession law comes into fold.

Successional Rights

In the Philippines, the law on succession is governed by the Civil Code particularly its Title IV. While, succession and inheritance are sometimes interchanged, in the legal concept the two are not really synonymous.

By the express provision of Article 781, it provides that: “The inheritance of a person includes not only the property and the transmissible rights and obligations existing at the time of his death, but also those which have accrued thereto since the opening of the succession.”[1]Article 781, Civil Code

If we would dissect the said provision, inheritance consists of:

(a) all properties of the decedent existing at the time of his death;

(b) all his transmissible rights and obligations which are existing at the time of his death; and

(c) all the property and rights which have accrued to the estate since the death of the decedent.

On the other hand, succession refers to the legal mode of acquisition whereby the inheritance of a person is transmitted to another or others by his death.[2]Notes and Cases on Succession by Dean Viviana Martin – Paguirigan p. 16

Simply put, the term inheritance is universal as it connotes property, rights, and obligations. While, succession is the legal way on how inheritance would be divided. For instance, the deceased’s estate can only be succeeded to up to its “net estate,” or what is left over after all of the decedent’s creditors have been satisfied with their separate claims.

In the case of Heirs of Leandro Natividad vs Juana Natividad and Spouses Cruz,[3]GR No. 198434, February 29, 2016 the complaint alleges that Sergio, respondent’s husband, obtained a loan from Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) and mortgaged two parcels of land, one of which is co-owned and registered in his name and one with his siblings, as security for the loan.

Sergio, on the other hand, died without being able to pay his DBP obligations. When the loan was nearing maturity, Sergio’s brother, Leandro, paid its obligation to DBP in order to keep the property from being foreclosed.

Sergio’s wife and daughter were unable to reimburse Leandro for the advances made in Sergio’s favor. They, therefore, agreed that Leandro and his wife Juliana should receive Sergio’s share of the jointly owned lot. They designated their other sibling, Domingo, to help with the aforementioned transfer of title over the plot of property.

Unfortunately, during the process, Domingo died without being able to cause the transfer. Leandro, for his part, made demands to effect such transfer. Nonetheless, the respondents failed and refused to honor their undertaking. Hence, Leandro filed this case for specific performance and recovery of sum of money against respondent.

The issue whether the respondents are liable to reimburse to petitioner the payment of decedent’s loan to DBP was resolved by the Supreme Court ruling in affirmative. Accordingly, Article 776 provides that: “The inheritance includes all the property, rights and obligations of a person which are not extinguished by his death.”[4]Article 776, Civil Code

It also underlines provisions such as Art. 781, wherein as mentioned above inheritance includes obligations existing at the time of his death and those which have accrued thereto since the opening of the succession.

The Supreme Court further states that respondents are liable to reimburse the amount paid by Leandro for the payment of the said obligation even if such payment is without their knowledge or consent. Settled is the rule that heirs are liable to settle transmissible obligations prior to the distribution of the remainder of Sergio’s estate to them.

Testacy over Intestacy

From understanding the distinction between inheritance and succession and the right to settle transmissible obligations, we now move on to the fundamental question of preference for testacy over intestacy.

There are many cases where the basic issue is who succeeds the estate of the deceased when there is no will, no beneficiary planning, no trust, but there are a lot of assets involved.

It has been observed that the heirs often file lawsuits against one another with ambiguous claims. In our legal system, testacy prevails over intestacy. To avoid misunderstandings and contentious claims between or among the heirs when the decedent passes away, every individual is urged to truly organize his or her estates.

Disposing the entire estate

In Austria vs Reyes,[5]G.R. No. L-23079, February 27, 1970 it was decided that doubts are resolved in favor of testacy, particularly where the will demonstrates the testator’s intention to dispose of practically his entire estate. The principle that intestacy should be avoided and the testator’s wishes should prevail is so compelling that the language of the will can sometimes be changed to give it effect.

In the case of Dolores L. Hacbang and Bernardo J. Hacbang vs Atty. Basilio Alo,[6]G.R. No. 191031, October 5, 2015 Bishop Sofronio Hacbang died leaving several properties behind. He was survived by his parents and his siblings.

Bishop Hacbang left a will, where he gave one-half of his properties to his parents. The other half of his properties, he bequeath to his one sister Dolores Hacbang Alo. A petition for probate of Bishop Hacbang’s will and settlement of his estate had been filed in 1937.

Bishop Hacbang’s will was admitted to probate before the Court of Frist Instance [CFI] of Manila. Thereafter, CFI ordered the proceedings to be archived. Register of Deeds of Quezon City issued a new TCT replacing the old TCT over the subject lot in favor of respondent Basilio Alo, son of Dolores Hacbang Alo.

However, the court cannot determine the circumstances of the issuance of the said TCT because of the inadequacy of the documents on record. While Dolores Hacbang Alo in 1975 tried to revive the settlement proceedings, it was denied by the CFI due to the reason that the order to archive “had long become final and executory.”

The petitioners Dolores L Hacbang (not Dolores Hacbang Alo) and Bernardo Hacbang filed a petition to cancel the said TCT alleging that it was fraudulently secured. Respondent Basilio Alo denied all the allegations of petitioners.

Respondent Basilio Alo filed a motion to dismiss the petition contending that petitioners Dolores L. Hacbang and Bernardo Hacbang were neither heirs nor devisees of decedent being only grandchild and child, respectively, of the Hacbang siblings, who were not even given something in Bishop Hacbang’s will.

Succession takes place at the precise moment of death

The question revolving on the said case on whether the petitioners have rights over the subject lot was resolved by the Supreme Court in negative. Under the Civil Code, the law applicable at that time states that successional rights are vested at the precise moment of death of decedent.

The inheritance vests immediately upon the decedent’s death without a moment of interruption. Therefore, ownership over inheritance passes to the heirs at the precise moment of death and not at the time the heirs are declared, nor at the time of partition, nor distribution of the properties.

In this case, Bishop Hacbang did not die intestate. He left a will that was eventually probated. The probate of his will is conclusive with respect to its due execution and extrinsic validity. He left half of his properties to his parents and the remaining half to his one sister Dolores Hacbang Alo.

The petitioners argued that because the will was archived without any pronouncement as to the intrinsic validity of the will, intestate succession should govern. For this reason, they are claiming to have legal interest in the subject lot as representatives of other children of Bishop Hacbang’s parent.

The Supreme Court importantly discussed in this case the preference of testate succession over intestacy. Accordingly, as much as possible, a testator’s will is treated and interpreted in a way that would render all of its provisions operative.

Therefore, there is no basis to apply the provisions on intestacy when testate succession evidently applies. So, in this case, the petitioners who claim to represent the children have no legal right or interest over the subject matter.

Respect the legitime

A similar case is Dizon – Rivera vs Dizon,[7]G.R. No. L-24561 June 30, 1970 where the Supreme Court held the testamentary dispositions of the testatrix, being dispositions in favor of compulsory heirs, do not have to be taken only from the free portion of the estate.

According to the the second paragraph of Article 842 of the Civil Code, it precisely provides that “one who has compulsory heirs may dispose of his estate provided he does not contravene the provisions of this Code with regard to the legitime of said heirs.”

In the determination of testator’s intent, settled is the rule that if a will is subject to different interpretations, the cardinal principle of determining the testator’s intent must dictate which of these interpretations will be followed.

As long as the testator respects the legitime of the compulsory heirs, the law does not forbid favoritism in will provisions. As a result, where the will expressly names “preferred” heirs, the interpretation must be made in a way that ensures they continue to be “favored” above the rest.

The status quo provides that there are a lot of people who have no wills than those with wills. Without knowing when you are going to pass away, more often than not, the court then makes decisions on who takes your assets.

The good thing about testate is that there is a plan in place for the distribution of one’s hard-earned assets after he or she dies. While the law provides for intestate succession to be enforced in case of no will, one may not likely want the distribution that will take place.

Thus, there is no doubt that planning your estate is really important. You may have worked so hard to earned funds in your lifetime. Nonetheless, such will go nowhere if you did not plan for it or secure it for the benefit of your heirs or to whoever person you want your assets to be given to and to be benefited by.

At the end of the day, it is good to have the basic knowledge on property rights and succession. Although, some may not have deep understanding of it, at least you know how to protect your wealth which you have sown for many years.

The problem with self-preservation is that we only think of ourselves and there is no sharing. It is like saying that I own this lot and you own that lot. There are boundaries created because we want our property to be protected and we both need to survive.

That is why we cannot overthrown the basic tenet that no person shall be denied of his right to property and even the government cannot seize one’s property without due cause.

Conclusion

In a nutshell, in the battle of succession, the one who plans his testate early and with adherence to the law, public order, and public policy wins. To do so, you must be able to determine righteously who deserves to benefit from your hard work and devise a plan for your wealth and assets. Nobody knows when you’re going to die. However, as the old adage goes, plans are of little importance, but planning is essential, and this saying also applies to your testate and will.

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RALB Law | RABR & Associates Law Firm

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