Reprobate of wills in the Philippines

by | Apr 29, 2019 | Estate Law, Wills & Inheritance

Philippine law requires that a will must be proved and allowed by the proper court in order for it to pass real or personal property.[1] This means that all wills must go through probate in order for them to transfer property from the testator to an heir.

This has implications for a foreign will which has already been probated abroad. The question of probate must be addressed by a Philippine court in order for that foreign will to dispose of property located in the Philippines.

The law provides two options in the case of a foreign will already probated abroad. The will can either be independently probated in the Philippines as if for the first time (under Rules 75 and 76 of the Rules of Court) or it may be reprobated under Rule 77.

Reprobate is a special proceeding to establish the validity of a will proved in a foreign country. It is the means of recognizing and enforcing a foreign court’s decision on a foreign will. Through reprobate, a will which has already proved and allowed in a foreign country — in accordance with that country’s laws — may be allowed in the Philippines.

Venue

The petition for reprobate should be filed with the correct Regional Trial Court.

If the deceased was an inhabitant of the Philippines, then it should be filed at the Regional Trial Court of the province where he actually resided at the time of his death. If he was not a resident, the petition should be filed at the RTC of any province where he had estate.[2]

The RTC which first assumes jurisdiction over the settlement of an estate shall exercise this to the exclusion of all other courts.[3]

Notice requirements

Reprobate has notice requirements identical to those of regular probate.[4]

After the petition is filed, the trial court will calendar the case for hearing.

The order setting the case for hearing must be published once a week for three consecutive weeks in a newspaper of general circulation in the province.[5]

The court shall also send notice of the hearing date to the designated or known heirs of the deceased through mailed or personal service. The same notice will be sent to the executor of the will.[6]

Nature and requirements of reprobate

In reprobate, the local court acknowledges as binding the findings of the foreign probate court provided the latter’s jurisdiction over the matter can be established.[7]

The process necessarily involves cross-jurisdictional issues. Reprobate usually contemplates a will which disposes of property found in more that one country. Different citizenships and different national laws are often under consideration. The laws of a foreign country must be submitted and proven to the Philippine court along with the foreign will itself.

The evidence necessary for the reprobate of a will are:

(1) the due execution of the will in accordance with the foreign laws;

(2) the testator has his domicile in the foreign country and not in the Philippines;

(3) the will has been admitted to probate in such country;

(4) the fact that the foreign tribunal is a probate court, and

(5) the laws of a foreign country on procedure and allowance of wills.[8]

 

The foreign elements can make these requirements very exacting indeed. They present practical challenges which a petitioner’s legal counsel must traverse during case preparation in order to successfully litigate a petition for reprobate.

First of all, the Rules require that a copy of the will and of the foreign court order or decree allowing it, both duly authenticated, must be filed together with the petition to the Regional Trial Court. This due authentication must comply with Philippine rules of evidence.

Furthermore, Philippine courts do not take judicial notice of foreign laws.[9] In order for a Philippine court to rule on the foreign probate’s validity, it is necessary to obtain the foreign laws on procedure and on the allowance of wills upon which that probate was based. These foreign laws also have to be authenticated abroad in accordance with Philippine rules of evidence.

The requirement of proving the foreign country’s laws in accordance with Philippine rules of evidence is indispensable. The evidence will have to be obtained and properly authenticated abroad in order for the petition to be granted here.

This problem is somewhat ameliorated by the Philippines’ recent accession to the Hague Apostille Convention. Nonetheless, it is important that the foreign documents be obtained in coordination with legal counsel as early as possible so that he can review their sufficiency before the petition is even contemplated.

Effect of reprobate

When the will is allowed, it shall have the same effect as if originally proved and allowed in such court.[10]

The letters testamentary or of administration granted shall extend to all of the estate of the testator in the Philippines. After payment of just debts and expenses of administration, the estate shall be disposed of according to such will, so far as such will may operate upon it.[11]

Why choose reprobate?

Given their similar procedural requirements, it is fair to ask why a petitioner should choose to submit a will for reprobate rather than probate.

There can be good reasons for this choice. They bear upon the practical distinctions between the two.

Probate is a special proceeding to establish the validity of a will in the Philippines. This requires evidence to present the will’s due execution. Probate takes up questions not only of authenticity, but also a host of others such as whether the will was executed under duress, the influence of fear, threats, or procured by undue and improper pressure and influence on the part of the beneficiary, or of some other person for his benefit. These require the presentation of evidence through witnesses competent to testify on the facts.

Presenting such evidence to a Philippine court can be problematic in a case where the testator or the witnesses may be based overseas notwithstanding that the Rules allow the taking of depositions.

Reprobate can offer a way to avoid relitigating probate in another jurisdiction because it is essentially a way of recognizing a foreign court’s already rendered judgment on probate.

Reprobate can also be advantageous in a case where the deceased was not a Filipino citizen.

There are limitations on the disposition of a Filipino’s estate which need not apply to a foreigner. Because inheritance to his estate is governed by his national law, a foreign testator is not bound by the legitime requirements which reserve portions of his estate to heirs designated by Philippine law.[12] The legitimes guaranteed to the heirs of a Filipino are not binding on a foreign testator.

Article 16, paragraph (2) of the Civil Code provides:

“… intestate and testamentary successions, both with respect to the order of succession and to the amount of successional rights and to the intrinsic validity of testamentary provisions, shall be regulated by the national law of the person whose succession is under consideration, whatever may be the nature of the property and regardless of the country wherein said property may be found.” virtua1aw library

Article 1039 provides:

“Capacity to succeed is governed by the law of the nation of the decedent.”

With these provisions in mind, the Supreme Court has ruled that the national law of the decedent must apply as regards the intrinsic validity of the provisions of the will and the amount of successional rights:

“It is therefore evident that whatever public policy or good customs may be involved in our system of legitimes, Congress has not intended to extend the same to the succession of foreign nationals. For it has specifically chosen to leave, inter alia, the amount of successional rights, to the decedent’s national law. Specific provisions must prevail over general ones.”[13]

 

However, the foreigner’s law has to be submitted to the Philippine court to ensure that his law is actually applied. Otherwise, the processual presumption — that a foreign law not properly pleaded and proved is presumed to be the same as our local or domestic or internal law[14] — may be applied upon the estate. A petitioner should submit the duly authenticated foreign laws even in a probate proceeding.

Since the authentication problem has to be traversed in either probate or reprobate proceedings anyway, the latter can be the more practical option of the two. When foreign elements are involved, reprobate can be the more efficient way for beneficiaries to settle and secure the administration of an estate in the Philippines.

 

Atty. Francesco Britanico

[1] Civil Code of the Philippines, Art. 838; Section 1, Rule 75 of the Rules of Court.

[2] Section 1, Rule 73.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Section 2, Rule 77. However, note that Section 4, Rule 76 provides for a distinction when the testator is not a resident of the Philippines.

[5] Publication will not be required if the petition for reprobate was filed by the testator himself while still alive.

[6] Notice to the executor is not necessary if he was the same person who filed the petition for reprobate.

[7] In Re: In The Matter Of The Petition To Approve The Will Of Ruperta Palaganas, G.R. No. 169144, January 26, 2011

[8] Vda. de Perez vs. Hon. Tolete, G.R. No. 76714, June 2, 1994.

[9] Medina vs. Koike, G.R. No. 215723, July 27, 2016, citing Corpuz vs. Sta. Tomas, G.R. No. 186571, August 11, 2010.

[10] Section 3, Rule 77.

[11] Section 4, Rule 77.

[12] Ancheta vs. Guersey-Dalaygon, G.R. No. 139868, June 8, 2006

[13] Cayetano vs. Hon. Leonidas, G.R. No. L-54919, May 30, 1984, citing Bellis v. Bellis (20 SCRA 358).

[14] Del Socorro vs. Van Wilsem, G.R. No. 193707, December 10, 2014, citing Bank of America, NT and SA vs. American Realty Corporation, 378 Phil. 1279, 1296 (1999).

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