There are many possible variations of this theme. An exhaustive dissertation of all of them would take volumes. This article will discuss one particular, common scenario.
In this scenario, a foreigner spouse is married to a Filipino. The Filipino owns land in the Philippines. Let’s assume there are no children, mutual or otherwise, involved.
Philippine law prohibits a foreigner from buying land in the Philippines. But what if the Filipino spouse were to pass away? Can the surviving foreigner spouse then inherit the land owned by the deceased Filipino?
Yes. The Philippine laws that apply here are the 1987 Constitution of the Philippines and the 1949 Civil Code inherited from Spain.
Although Sections 3 and 8 of Article XII of the Constitution famously restrict the ownership of land by individuals to Filipinos and former Filipinos, Section 7 of the same Article allows foreign citizens to own land by way of legal inheritance.
Section 7. Save in cases of hereditary succession, no private lands shall be transferred or conveyed except to individuals, corporations, or associations qualified to acquire or hold lands of the public domain.
Section 7 speaks of hereditary succession. In legal speak, this means that a foreigner can acquire land through intestate inheritance, i.e. the default laws on inheritance which are not transfers of property by way of a last will and testament.
This means that Section 7, Article XII of the Constitution should be read in relation with the Philippine Civil Code’s provisions on intestate inheritance.
Specifically, Articles 995, 997 and 1001 of the Civil Code. I’ll give you the entire subsection on a surviving spouse:
Subsection 4. – Surviving Spouse
Art. 995. In the absence of legitimate descendants and ascendants, and illegitimate children and their descendants, whether legitimate or illegitimate, the surviving spouse shall inherit the entire estate, without prejudice to the rights of brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces, should there be any, under article 1001. (946a)
Art. 996. If a widow or widower and legitimate children or descendants are left, the surviving spouse has in the succession the same share as that of each of the children. (834a)
Art. 997. When the widow or widower survives with legitimate parents or ascendants, the surviving spouse shall be entitled to one-half of the estate, and the legitimate parents or ascendants to the other half. (836a)
Art. 998. If a widow or widower survives with illegitimate children, such widow or widower shall be entitled to one-half of the inheritance, and the illegitimate children or their descendants, whether legitimate or illegitimate, to the other half. (n)
Art. 999. When the widow or widower survives with legitimate children or their descendants and illegitimate children or their descendants, whether legitimate or illegitimate, such widow or widower shall be entitled to the same share as that of a legitimate child. (n)
Art. 1000. If legitimate ascendants, the surviving spouse, and illegitimate children are left, the ascendants shall be entitled to one-half of the inheritance, and the other half shall be divided between the surviving spouse and the illegitimate children so that such widow or widower shall have one-fourth of the estate, and the illegitimate children the other fourth. (841a)
Art. 1001. Should brothers and sisters or their children survive with the widow or widower, the latter shall be entitled to one-half of the inheritance and the brothers and sisters or their children to the other half. (953, 837a)
Art. 1002. In case of a legal separation, if the surviving spouse gave cause for the separation, he or she shall not have any of the rights granted in the preceding articles. (n)
These articles should be read in relation to Article 985 of the same Code.
Article 985. In default of legitimate children and descendants of the deceased, his parents and ascendants shall inherit from him, to the exclusion of collateral relatives. (935a)
So given our scenario of a childless Filipina wife who owns land in the Philippines, should she pass away without a will, what are the legal inheritance rights of her foreign, surviving husband?
He can inherit her property (including land), subject to the shares of her surviving relatives.
1) If the Filipina wife were to pass away with none of her parents or siblings still living, the foreign widower would be entitled to his wife’s entire estate.
2) If the Filipina wife were to pass away with her parents and siblings still living, the foreign widower would be entitled to half his wife’s estate and her parents to the other half.
3) If the Filipina wife were to pass away after her parents had already passed away and with her siblings still living, the foreign widower would be entitled to half his wife’s estate and her siblings to the other half.
There are other aspects of the law you might consider in practice.
A foreigner cannot own land, but he can own the house built on it. A thorough documentation of his costs and acquisition of the house in his name, amply corroborated by other evidence, can establish that at least the house will not be part of his deceased wife’s estate. This reduces the extent of his exposure to problems down the line.
It might also be possible for the wife to encumber the Title to the land in some way — via her making a limited will or through an annotation on the Title or through some other deed (such as a lease agreement if this is allowed under their marriage settlement) — so as to protect her widower’s use of the land for at least his lifetime.
There are more extreme scenarios of the wife executing a will that explicitly disinherits other members of her family for strong reasons (check out Articles 919, 920 and 921 of the Civil Code), leaving her husband her sole heir, but these should certainly not be the first recourse without strong cause when other legal ways can be put in place.