Last Testament And Will Executed Overseas
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Last Testament and Will executed overseas. We will go about this. But first…..

When it comes to legal novels, I am sure that John Grisham is one of the most famous writers we could think of. Grisham wrote numerous legal novels that eventually also made their way into their own film and TV adaptations.

To name a few of these novels that successfully made into film adaptation is the A Time to Kill, The Rainmaker, and The Client. Grisham was able to present the drama in his novels concerning legal conflicts and legal issues surrounding the characters.

In each of the novels, he navigated his readers for the resolution of these conflicts and issues. Definitely, because of his brilliance as a storyteller with legal plots concerning legal problems, he has inspired and captured young minds to take up an interest in law and legal concepts.

But that is enough of being a fan of John Grisham. Surely, you may already be wondering about the relevance of John Grisham in this article. Will this article be a review of one of his many great books?

Could this be a mini biography featuring certain aspects of his life and career? Or perhaps this could be an article criticizing him for a controversial legal problem he tackle in one of his books? No, it is none of those listed reasons.

In this article, I will be trying to be a John Grisham. I will try to be a storyteller with a legal plot and impart some legal knowledge along the way. For this article, we will focus on the provisions of the Code of the Philippines concerning Succession.

Article 815 and 816 of the Civil Code

Specifically, we will talk about Articles 815 and 816 of the Civil Code of the Philippines. I will be basing the discussion on one of John Grisham’s novels that I find relevant to the topic, The Testament.

When a Filipino is in a foreign country, he is authorized to make a will in any of the forms established by the law of the country in which he may be. Such will may be probated in the Philippines.[1]Article 815, Civil Code

The will of an alien who is abroad produces effect in the Philippines if made with the formalities prescribed by the law of the place in which he resides, or according to the formalities observed in his country, or in conformity with those which this Code prescribes.[2]Article 816, Civil Code

To lay out the groundwork of this article, allow me first to present a short synopsis of the novel. The Testament is about the journey of Nate O’Riley, a disbarred lawyer who was tasked to look for Rachel Lane.

Rachel Lane is the mysterious woman who was the lone heir named to the multi-billion estate on Troy Phelan’s last will and testament. It was later known that Rachel Lane is an unknown daughter of Troy Phelan from one of the latter’s sexual adventures.

At the onset, the latest information about Rachel Lane’s location is that she is a religious missionary stationed deep in the rainforest of Brazil, serving a remote tribal group detached from the civilization. Nate O’Riley was able to locate Rachel Lane and communicate with her about the vast inheritance left for her by her biological father.

Unfortunately, the novel ended with the uneventful death of Rachel Lane due to malaria she contracted. But before Rachel Lane’s own death, she was also able to leave her own notarized will leaving the vast fortune she inherited for charitable causes and designating Nate O’Riley as the administrator of the estate.

For the purposes of discussion on this article, we will play into the ending of the novel by changing some events and facts surrounding the execution of Rachel Lane’s last will. First, we will look into the situation where Rachel Lane is a Filipino citizen.

Yet, we will be retaining the fact that she executed her own will in Brazil, complied with the formalities of the will according to the laws of Brazil, and ultimately died in Brazil.

Then for the second situation, we will look into the scenario where the properties composing the estate is all located in the Philippines. This time, we will assume that Rachel Lane is an American citizen, who executed her own will in Brazil. She complied with the formalities of the will according to the laws of Brazil, and ultimately, she died in Brazil.

As a way of simplifying things and laying out more assumptions and alternative facts common to both scenarios above we will assume that Rachel Lane’s will be probated here in the Philippines and there are no other legal impediments to Rachel Lane’s inheritance of her late father’s estate. Further, in no way that in this article we will be looking into the implication of the scenarios for taxation purposes.

Filipino Citizen, Will executed overseas

Let us now look into the two scenarios deeper individually.

Scenario 1: Rachel Lane is a Filipino citizen, she executed her own will in Brazil, complied with the formalities of the will according to the laws of Brazil, and died in Brazil.

For this scenario, the relevant legal provision under the Civil Code of the Philippines is Article 815. Articles 815 provides “When a Filipino is in a foreign country, he is authorized to make a will in any of the forms established by the law of the country in which he may be. Such will may be probated in the Philippines.”[3]Supra., Article 815, Civil Code

Applying what this specific article provides to our scenario where Rachel Lane is Filipino, it is simply saying Rachel Lane’s last will and testament leaving the vast fortune she earlier inherited from her father, on its face is a valid will and the same could be recognized under our laws to transfer the properties in the estate located here in the Philippines.

Reflecting on the provision closer, we may discover the importance of this provision. In application, Article 815 enables a Filipino to observe the formalities of preparation of a will in accordance with the laws of the place where he/she executed his/her will.

We may need to correlate this provision with another provision of the Civil Code of the Philippines to better appreciate this. Another provision of the Civil Code, Article 17 provides “The forms and solemnities of contracts, wills, and other public instruments shall be governed by the laws of the country in which they are executed,” otherwise known as the principle of lex loci celebrationis.[4]Article 17, Civil Code

With this, clearly that the provision of Article 815 is a reiteration of what has been provided under Article 17 of the Civil Code that the law of the place where the will was celebrated or executed governs its formalities.

A word of caution, however, on the application of the provision of Article 815. This provision governs only the formalities of the will. Formalities pertain to the form and solemnity, otherwise known as the extrinsic validity, of the will. Then how about the intrinsic validity? Let us first define the intrinsic validity of the will. The intrinsic validity of the will pertains to the legality of each of the provisions contained in the will.

It is now established that the application of Article 815 has a limitation, let us continue digging deeper into it. To help us better understand, we need to take a look at another provision of the Civil code. When taking into consideration the intrinsic validity of the will we must refer to Article 15 of the Civil Code.

Article 15 provides that “Laws relating to family rights and duties, or to the status, condition and legal capacity of persons are binding upon citizens of the Philippines, even though living abroad.”[5]Article 15, Civil Code What does this mean and how should these provisions be harmonized?

To state this simply, when looking into whenever the will executed by a Filipino citizen outside the Philippines complies with the formalities set by law, we may look at the requirements of the laws of the country where the said will was executed.

However, the issue of who can heirs, the amount of portion the testator can leave to each heir, and other things that affects the hereditary rights of the heir is governed by the laws of the Philippines regardless of the place where the testator executed the said will.

Let us now go back to our example better illustrate this. Since Rachel Lane, a Filipino citizen, followed the formalities set by the laws of Brazil in crafting her will while she was temporarily residing in Brazil, the said will may be recognized by Philippine laws and could be probated in the Philippine Court.

This part is the extrinsic validity of her will. This is notwithstanding of any legal issues of whether she can freely dispose of all properties forming part of her estate and give it all to charity. These legal questions and issues touch on the intrinsic validity of her will.

Foreign National, Will executed overseas

Scenario 2: Rachel Lane is an American citizen, the estate is all located in the Philippines, she executed her own will in Brazil, she complied with the formalities of the will according to the laws of Brazil, and she died in Brazil.

For this situation, we need to look at another provision of the Civil Code. The relevant legal provision is Article 816 of the Civil Code. Article 816 provides the “The will of an alien who is abroad produces effect in the Philippines if made with the formalities prescribed by the law of the place in which he resides, or according to the formalities observed in his country, or in conformity with those which this Code prescribes.”[6]Supra., Article 816, Civil Code

Applying this provision to our scenario, given that Rachel Lane is an alien that executed her will outside the Philippines we may need to look into the laws of the place of her residence, her country, or by the provision of the Civil Code of the Philippines, in that order of priority, to determine whether the will is valid and could be enforced in the Philippines to transfer the properties located here in the Philippines.

Reflecting on Article 816, again, caution must be observed in applying this provision as this also deals only with the extrinsic validity of a will. Realizing that this provision is also observing the principle of lex loci celebrationis as provided in Article 17.

The provision gives priority to the laws of the place where the will was executed to govern the formalities on the preparation of the will. On this specific situation, the Civil Code of the Philippines comes into play as Philippines being the situs of the properties composing the estate.

Before concluding this article, let’s recap the concepts laid in this article. A will has both its intrinsic and extrinsic validity. Extrinsic validity concerns about the formalities related to the forms and solemnities in the preparation of the will.

Intrinsic validity concerns about the legality of the provisions of the will in accordance with law. Both Articles 815 and 816 of the Civil Code coupled with Article 17 of the Civil Code deal with the extrinsic validity of the will. Article 815 deals with the situation where a Filipino citizen executed his/ her will outside the Philippines.

Article 815 allows observance of the formalities set out by the laws where the will is to be executed. While on the other hand, Article 816 deals with the situation where the will of an alien is to be effected here in the Philippines. Article 816 provides the guideline on what laws are governing the extrinsic validity of the alien’s will that is intended to be effected in the Philippines.

Conclusion

There we have it, our play with the ending of one John Grisham’s novel, The Testatment. I hope that I was able give justice to the creative play into the great legal novel. At the same time, I hope I was able to share informative tidbits of legal knowledge to you.

References

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RALB Law | RABR & Associates Law Firm

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