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Jose Miguel Abrillo, Giannina Cruz, Aleli Carissa Gimena, Lauren Antonette
Mendoza, Courtney Padua, Abdul Nasser Sampaco


A. Introduction

While various legal systems agree on the basic idea of inheritance, they differ
with respect to the law that governs succession to a person’s estate, where his
assets are located in various jurisdictions.

An examination of legal systems shows that, in the main, there are two
divergent ideas observed in the regulation of the transmission of successional
rights upon death. One is the idea of universal succession as developed in the
Roman Law; and the other system has, for its historical basis, the feudalistic
conception which sought to distinguish between lands and chattels, that is,
between immovable and movables.

B. The Unitary System

This system considers the individual as head of the family and invested with
an estate, an artificial person who continues to exist after his death for purposes
of succession. Hence, whatever personal law governed the decedent governs
the devolution, after his death, of his entire estate. The decedent and the heir
are, in a certain sense, one person, and that the heir continues the personality of
the deceased. Italy, Spain, and the Philippines adhere to this unitary system.

The necessary consequence of this concept is that one law applies to both
immovable and movables, and in countries adopting the unitary system, this is
the personal law of the deceased: the national law for those countries adopting
the nationality principle, and the domiciliary law for those countries adopting the
domiciliary principle.

Under Article 16 of the Civil Code of the Philippines:

Art. 16. Real property as well as personal property is subject to the law of the
country where it is stipulated.

However, 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.

Thus, in the case of Philippine Trust Co. vs. Bohanan (G.R. No. L-1205, Jan.
30, 1960, 106 Phil. 1997)), our Supreme Court held that since the testator was a
citizen of the state of Nevada, whose laws allow the testator to dispose of all his
property according to his will, his testamentary dispositions depriving his wife and


children of what should be their legitimes under the laws of the Philippines,
should be respected, and the project of partition made in accordance with his
testamentary dispositions should be affirmed.

In Miciano vs. Brimo (50 Phil. 867 [1924]), the Supreme Court held that a
condition imposed by the testator in a will –executed in the Philippines, relating to
property accumulated in the Philippines, where he had resided for a long time—
to the effect that his relatives respect his wish that his estate be distributed
according to Philippine law, instead of according to his national law (Turkish law),
is void for being contrary to law.

C. The Split or Division System

In this system, one law regulates succession to immovables, and another law
regulates rights of succession to movables. Hence, the descriptive term split or
division system, which is adopted in England, the United States, and France.

Thus, in the United States, succession to land upon the death of the owner is
governed by the law of the place where the land is situated, while the devolution
of personalty is governed by the law of the domicile of the testator at the time of
his death.

D. Philippine Conflicts Rule on Succession

Successional rights and capacity to succeed; intrinsic validity of wills.

The Philippine Conflict of law on succession follows the unitary system which
provides that whatever the nature of the property and wherever if may be found,
the national law of the person whose succession in under consideration regulates
the following matters:

1. Order of succession
2. Amount of successional rights
3. Intrinsic validity of testamentary provisions (Art. 16 Paragraph 2 Civil
4. Capacity to succeed is governed by the law of the nation of the decedent.
(Art. 1039)

These matters can be are determined by the national law of the decedent. This
may be properly illustrated in the case of Cayetano vs Leonidas.

Facts: Adoracion Campos was an American citizen and a

permanent resident of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at the
time of death. Before her death while she was temporarily
sojourning in Manila, she executed a last will and testament


in Philadelphia. The will was admitted and granted by the
probate court of Pennsylvania. The same will was probated
and allowed in the Philippines 2 years after her death. Now
Cayetano maintains that Hermogenes Campos, Adoracion’s
father and forced her, was divested of his legitime under her
will; therefore Pennsylvania law allows her to give her estate
away to a complete stranger should not apply because it
would run against to specific provisions of the law.
Issue: Whether or not the Philippine laws on succession
should apply?
Ruling: Although it would seem that the will appeared to
have preterited the petitioner, it was properly established
that the decedent was an American Citizen and permanent
resident of Pennsylvania under Art. 16 par. 2 and Art. 1039
of the Civil Code should apply.

Art. 16 par. 2
“However, intestate and testamentary successions, both with respect to the order
of succession and to the amount of successional right and to the intrinsic validity
of the testamentary provisions, shall be regulated by the national law of the
person whose succession is under consideration, whatever may the nature of the
property and regardless of the country wherein said property may be found”

Art. 1039
“Capacity to succeed is governed by the law if the nation of the decedent”

It is a settled rule that as regards to the intrinsic validity of the provisions of

the will the national law of the decedent must apply.

The national law of the decedent governs such questions as to whether a

given person is unworthy to succeed on the ground of certain crimes committed
against the decedent or any other instance which would run counter to the
Philippine law. But according to the Philippine Conflicts rule which follows the
unitary system a will is either valid or invalid. There is no middle ground. This
would be the source of conflicting laws among other countries who does not
follow the unitary system.

But according to the case of Miciano vs Brimo which provides that:

Facts: Joseph Brimo, a Turkish national, made a will with a

provision that his properties be distributed using Philippine
Laws. This was opposed by his brother, Andre Brimo, stating
that Turkish law and not Philippine law should apply since
the decedent is a Turkish national.
Issue: whether or not Philippine or Turkish law should apply?


Ruling: The Supreme Court ruled that although the decedent
is a Turkish national, the oppositor did not properly prove
Turkish law. By failing to prove such the Supreme court
presumed that Turkish law was the same as the Philippine
Law and approved the distribution of the estate according to
Philippine law.

This ruling was weighed against the policy of giving effect to the intention
of the owner in the disposition of his accumulations is open to serious doubt.
With respect to lands located in the forum, the renvoii is more than a legalistic
device and by the unanimous view of eminent authorities, deserves adoption by
the forum, in view of the significant interest of the lex rei sitae. The same result
could have been achieved without doing violence to common sense and to the
paramount policy of upholding as much as possible the wish of the testator.

The split or division system entails inconveniences where the estate

consists of lands and chattels in various countries. But it recognizes the
predominant role of the law of the place where the land is situated. This would
make this kind of system more realistic in a sense.

Renvoi Doctrine is applied when there is a conflict in the application of

the nationality and the domiciliary principles in respect to succession.

Aznar vs. Christensen Garcia

Facts: An alien domiciled in the Philippines but who had

always considered himself a citizen of California. His
daughter a Filipino citizen contended that Article 16 par. 2 of
the Civil Code, California Law should be applied; but under
the California Law the matter is referred back to the
Philippine Law the law on his domicile. Under the Philippine
Law, it provides that her share should be increased in view
of the successional rights of illegitimate children. On the
other hand, the counsel for the acknowledged natural
daughter contended that the national of the deceased should
be applied which provides that there are no compulsory
heirs, the testator is completely free to dispose of his
property in absolute dominion.
Issue: What law should be applied the California or the
Philippine law?
Held: Philippine Law should be applied. In this case the
California Law expressly states that if there is no law to the
contrary in the place where the personal property is situated,
it is deemed to follow the person of its owner and is
governed by the law of his domicile. The court ruled that
when this case will be thrown back to California, the problem


would be tossed back and forth between States concerned
resulting to an “international football”. The case was
remanded to the lower court for the determination of
successional rights under internal Philippine Law.

As a general rule, if the estate of the testator consisted of lands and

movables situated in the Philippines, there can be no dispute at all regarding the
use of renvoi doctrine. This would result in the application of Philippine law, the
lex rei sitae, whose dominant role, under the factual circumstances is

Bellis vs. Bellis

Facts: Amos Bellis was a citizen and domiciled in Texas at

the time of his death. He executed 2 wills, one disposing of
his Texas properties, the other disposing of his Philippine
properties. Both of the wills did not make any provision for
his recognized illegitimate children. Under Texas Law, there
are no compulsory heirs and therefore no legitimes. The
illegitimate children opposed the wills on the ground that
they have been deprived of their legitimes to which they are
entitled, if the Philippine law were to apply.
Issue: Whether the renvoi doctrine can be applied in this
Held: No, said doctrine is pertinent where the decedentis a
national of one country and a domiciliary of another. In the
present case, the decedent was a national and a domiciliary
of Texas at the time of his death. If Texas, has a conflicts
rule adopting the situs theory( lex rei sitae) calling for the
application of the law of the place where the properties are
situated, renvoi would arise since the properties here
involved are found in the Philippines. In the absence
however of proof as to the conflict of law rule in Texas, it
should not be presumed different from ours.

The ruling in Bellis case was argued upon by different authorities, as a

general rule the Supreme Court has ruled that it can take judicial knowledge of
foreign laws with which it is evidently familiar. It is of general knowledge that the
US as well as England and countries influenced by the common law, succession
to land is normally governed by the law of the situs (where the property is
located) not by the national law of the decedent. A leading authority on Texas
conflicts law states that, precisely, since the common law rule prevailing
throughout the United States is that testate succession to land is normally
governed by the law at the situs, this “may necessitate execution of several wills
by the testator when he owns lands in different states”. Evidently, the testator
with benefit of competent advice in Texas where he retired and shortly before his


death had good reason to expect that with respect at least to lands and tangible
movables in the Philippine, Philippine Internal Law, the lex situs would surely
apply. But ironically, that was the law the Supreme Court did not even want to


The general rule in Philippine conflicts law is found in Article 17, paragraph 1
of the Civil Code, which is patterned after the Spanish Civil Code: “The forms and
solemnities of contracts, wills, and other instruments shall be governed by the
laws of the country in which they are executed.”

This rule, concededly sound insofar as Filipinos executing wills in the

Philippines are concerned, would be extremely harsh if applied to wills executed
by aliens in the Philippines or by aliens abroad whose wills involve properties
situated in the Philippines, or even to wills executed by Filipinos abroad.

The general rule is modified by the liberal provisions of the Civil Code with
respect to the formal validity of wills.

By virtue of these provisions:

a) A will made in the Philippines by an alien which is executed in accordance

with the law of the country of which he is a citizen, and which might be
proved and allowed by the law of his own country, shall have the same
effect as if executed according to the laws of the Philippines, under Article

b) 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, under Article 816.

c) 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, under Article 815.

d) A person may execute a holographic will which must be entirely written,

dated and signed by the hand of the testator himself. It is subject to no
other form and may be made in or out of the Philippines, and need not be
witnessed, under Article 810.

Be it noted that holographic wills were permitted by the Spanish Civil Code
but at the start of American colonial rule, one one form of wills was recognized.
With the enactment of the Civil Code in 1950, holographic wills were revived and


became legally effective once more. Hence, a holographic will executed in the
Philippines in or at anytime before the effectivity of the Civil Code by a Filipino
national could not be admitted to probate (Enriquez vs. Abadia, 95 Phil. 627

However, where the testator was a citizen of Illinois and he made a

holographic will in accordance with the law of Illinois, the same could not be
admitted to probate under Article 817 of the Civil Code (In re Estate of Johnson,
39 Phil. 156 [1918]). Likewise, since Article 976 of the French Civil Code
considers as a holographic will that which is made or executed, dated and signed
by the testator in his own handwriting without the necessity of any other formality,
the same may also be allowed and probated in the Philippines if made outside
the Philippines and qualified for admission to probate (Valera vs. Calderon, 57
Phil. 280 [1932]).

e) Wills executed by Filipinos abroad which violate the rule prohibiting two or
more persons to make a will jointly, or in the same instrument, either for
their reciprocal benefit or for the benefit of a third person, shall not be valid
in the Philippines, even though authorized by the laws of the country
where they may have been executed, pursuant to Article 819.

In Bilbao vs. Bilbao (87 Phil 144 [1950]), the Supreme Court gave a reason
for the prohibition, thus: “The reason for this provision, especially as regards
husbands and wife is that when a will is made jointly or in the same instrument,
the spouse who is more aggressive, stronger in will or character and dominant is
liable to dictate the terms of the will for his or her own benefit or for that of third
persons whom he or she desires to favor. And, where the will is not only joint but
reciprocal, either one of the spouses who may happen to be unscrupulous,
wicked, faithless, or desperate, knowing as he or she does the terms of the will
whereby the whole property of the spouses both conjugal and paraphernal goes
to the survivor, may be tempted to kill or dispose of the other.”


A will is essentially revocable. Since the heirs do not acquire any rights to
the estate until the death of the testator, he is deemed free to revoke his will
anytime before his death. It is for this reason that the Civil Code, in upholding
the wish of the testator, provides that “Any waiver or restriction of this right (of
revocation) is void.”

Under Article 839 of the Civil Code, a revocation done outside of the
Philippines, by a person who does not have his domicile in the Philippines, is
valid when it is done (1) according to the law of the place where the will is
made, or (2) according to the law of the place in which the testator had his


domicile at the time. If the revocation takes place in the Philippines, the
revocation is valid when it is in accordance with Philippine law.

This codal provision on revocation leaves a number of gaps which have to

be filled in by the court by means of legislation.

First, the provision seems to imply that the place of revocation is of no

importance. Secondly, the shift from nationality to domicile as a test factor or
point of contact is either erratic. In the making of wills, nationality is the
principal point of contact – why is it ignored in the revocation of wills? Thirdly,
why are there only two points of contact recognized in case of revocation –
namely, the law of the place where the will is made or the law of the testator’s
domicile? Fourthly, there is apparently no provision with reference to aliens
domiciled in the Philippines who execute the act of revocation abroad.

In theory, the testamentary act of revocation should receive equal legal

protection as the execution of a will, since in both cases it is the wish of the
testator that is being upheld.


Probate – proof of establishing, before the appropriate tribunal, that the

documents is the valid last will of the deceased, as well as the certification of
such court that the will was executed by a competent testator in the manner
prescribed by law.

Under the Philippine Law, “no will shall pass real or personal property
unless it is proved and allowed in accordance with the Rules of Court.”
Neither estoppel nor prescription can apply to defeat the probate of the will.
There is no period of prescription for the probate of a will.

According to In RE Estate of Johnson (1918), the probate of a will is

conclusive as to its due execution and the testamentary capacity of the
testator but does not affect the intrinsic validity of the provisions of the will.

Under Rule 77 of the Rules of Court:

Section 1. Will proved outside Philippines may be allowed here. — Wills

proved and allowed in a foreign country, according to the laws of such
country, may be allowed, filed, and recorded by the proper Court of First
Instance in the Philippines.

A copy of the will and the of the order or decree of allowance thereof, both
duly authenticated, are filed with a petition for allowance in the Philippines by


the executor or other person interested. The procedure is the same as an
enforcement of a foreign judgment; therefore, testamentary capacity need not
be proven again.

A probate proceeding is a proceeding in rem, and for the validity of such

proceedings and in this case for the validity of such proceedings personal
notice or by publication or both to all interested parties must be made.

A will executed abroad but not yet admitted to probate in a foreign country
may be admitted to probate in the Philippines. The due execution of the will
and the testamentary capacity of the testator must be proved as in regular
probate proceedings.


Generally, interpretation of a will is the process of ascertaining the

meaning, which the testator intended his words to be conveyed. It does however
differ from one legal system to the other on how differences arise. One legal
system may have a set of interpretation in determining what is to be regarded as
the presumptive intention of a testator, which may be different from the rules of
interpretation of other legal systems.

Under Article 788 of the Civil Code, it is clear that if a testamentary

provision admits of different interpretations, in case of doubt, that interpretation
by which the disposition is to be operative shall be preferred.

Likewise in Article 791 of the Civil Code, the will is to be interpreted as a

whole so that every expression may be given effect, rather than one which will
render any of the expressions inoperative. Applied only if the will has been validly


It is the procedure wherein the assets of an estate must first be realized and the
debts of the estate settled. It is the pre-requisite to the actual distribution of the
estate of a deceased person. Administration is effected through an officer
appointed by the court, who is called: (a) the executor, if he is named in the will
of the decedent; or (b) administrator, if no person is named in the will or if there is
no will at all. As a general rule, administration is governed by the law of the
country where administration takes place. This same country is where the
executor or administrator derives his authority.

I. General Comparison


In other countries, the heir or heirs take custody of the assets, satisfy the
claims of creditors, carry out the last will, and distribute the residue. The
Philippines, on the other hand, follows closely Anglo-American models, which, in
this case, follows the main principle of territorialism.

II. Appointment of Administrators and Executors

A. An administrator may be appointed at the domicile of the decedent

or in the state where there are assets
As above mentioned, the law of the State or country appointing the
administrator or executor governs administration. The court that has the power to
so appoint, if the decedent is an inhabitant of the Philippines at the time of death,
is the RTC of the province in which he was residing at the time of his death. This
rule stands whether the decedent is a citizen of the Philippines or an alien. On
the other hand, if the decedent is an inhabitant of a foreign country at the time of
his death, the RTC of any province in which there may be properties has the
power to appoint. In the latter case, the court first taking cognizance of the
probate proceedings shall exercise jurisdiction to the exclusion of all. For
example, X, a resident alien, left properties at Laguna. The court which has the
power to appoint is an RTC of the province of Laguna. If he left properties in
Laguna and Muntinlupa, whichever court first taking cognizance of the probate
proceedings shall exercise jurisdiction to the exclusion of all.

B. The duties of an executor or administrator with regard the conduct of

the administration are usually determined by the local law of the
State of appointment
The universal rule is that administration extends only to the assets of the
decedent found within the State or country where it was granted. Otherwise put,
an administrator appointed in one State or country has no power over property in
another State or country. To properly administer property situated in a foreign
state, the administrator must be reappointed, or a new one named in that State.

C. Principal Domicillary Administration and Ancillary Administration

Rule 77, Section 1. Wills proved outside Philippines may be allowed here.
Wills proved and allowed in a foreign country, according to the laws of such
country, may be allowed in the Philippines.

Rule 77, Section 4, When a will is thus allowed, the court shall grant letters
testamentary, or letters of administration with the will annexed, and such letters
testamentary or of administration shall extend to all the estate of the testator in
the Philippines.

When administration is granted in the jurisdiction of the decedent’s last

domicile, it is called the Principal domicillary administration. Any other


administration is called ancillary administration. The reason for having the latter
is that the grant of administration does not ex proprio vigor have any effect
beyond the limits of the country in which it is granted.

III. Distribution of Remaining Assets

The estate shall be disposed of according to the will once the appointed
administrator has paid the just debts and expenses of administration. Only the
residue of the estate shall be disposed of as provided by law in cases of estates
in the Philippines belonging to persons who are inhabitants of another State or
country. We follow Article 16 of the New Civil Code which states in part,
“intestate and estate succession, both with respect to the order of succession
and to the amount of successional rights and to the intrinsic validity of the
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 wherever it may be found.” If the testator is insolvent, the estate in
the Philippines shall be disposed of in such a way that creditors here and
elsewhere may receive an equal share in proportion to their respective debts.
Generally, the ancillary administrator is to remit the balance to the domiciliary
administrator for distribution. The administrator cannot be held accountable in
any other State other than where his appointment was granted. If the
administrator, as a result of re-appointment, serves in more than one state, he
may be held accountable separately for assets received under such appointment.

IV. Illustrative Case

In the case of Tayag vs. Benguet Consolidated (G.R. No. L-23145, 29
November 1968), the deceased Idonah Slade Perkins had her domicile in New
York City, USA, when she died in 1960. She had properties in both New York
City and in the Philippines, one of which is two certificates of stock in Benguet
Consolidated. The Ancillary Administrator requested the domicillary administrator
in the US to surrender the said certificates, to which the latter refused. As a
result, the court ordered Benguet to cancel the said certificates and issue new
ones. Benguet, however, refused. The Supreme Court held that the lawful court
order must be complied with by Benguet; it must issue new certificates to which
the ancillary administrator is entitled to, so he can perform his duties as
administrator. An administrator appointed in one state has no power over
property in another state.

The Right of the State to Claim the Estate of the Deceased

Where the estate of the decedent has no heirs, testate or intestate,

various legal systems authorize the State in such a case to claim the assets of
the estate.

Legal systems showing that the claim is based on two theories:


1. The theory that as the property has become ownerless (bona vacantia),
the State can exercise the old jus regale of occupying it; the property must
therefore revert by escheat to the State.

This is the theory upheld by England – where the claim is known as the
caduciary rights of the State – by most American states, Austria, France,
Belgium, and the majority of Latin – American countries.

2. The theory that as the usual heirs are non-existent, the State should
succeed as heir, jure hereditario.

This theory, under which the State becomes universal heir, is followed in
Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, and the Philippines. Thus, Article 1011 of the
Civil Code of the Philippines, which was borrowed from the Spanish Civil Code,

“In default of persons entitled to succeed... the State shall inherit the
whole estate.”

The rationale is almost the same under both theories: the abandonment of
the property would be detrimental to public interest. As the property can no
longer be enjoyed because there are no other persons entitled to own and enjoy
it, it is necessary and proper that the State which alone can extend protection to
its use lay claim to the entire estate.

There is no difficulty under either theory as long as there is no foreign

element involved. The State either confiscates or succeeds as heir; no conflicts
problem arises.

But where the decedent, a national or domiciliary of State I, leaves assets

n two or more States, say in State I, II, and III, the question as to what theory is
followed by the forum, and by those States, may become material in the
disposition of the case.


The difficulty is illustrated in two cases decided in England, where the lex
situs governs succession to land and the law of the domicile of the decedent
governs succession to movable property:

In the Maldonado case, a Spanish woman died domiciled in Spain,

leaving 26,000 pounds in an English bank. She left no relatives qualified to
succeed. Under the Civil Code of Spain, the Spanish government is the
ultimate heir. The English court, applying its rule of succession, upheld the
Spanish claim,


In the Musurus case, a Turkish woman domiciled in Turkey died intestate
without heirs, leaving movables in England and Turkey. Under Turkish
law, the estate would go to the Moslem treasury for the benefit of
Moslems. The English court held that the regalian claim of the Turkish
government could not prevail over the claim of the British crown over the
assets of the deceased in England. As the property of the deceased
became ownerless or bona vacantia, the British crown was entitled to it.

The difference in the cases;

In the Maldonado case, the English court decided that the Spanish claim
was that of an heir; in the Musurus cases, it decided that Turkey’s claim was as

According to an English writer, once the matter is classified as caduciary,

“rules of conflict of laws are largely abandoned, and each country works on the
principle of seizing all property of the deceased lying within its borders.”

If Turkish law had the same language as the Spanish Civil Code, the claim
of Turkey would have prevailed, without giving any thought to the underlying
interests of the States concerned.

How would this explanation work in the Philippines which, unlike England,
follows the theory that the State acquires the estate as a universal heir, nit by
virtue of the so-called caduciary rights of the State?


1. William Churchill, an Englishman, died domiciled in Manila, leaving

lands and movables in various places in the Philippines. He left no heirs. In
proceedings before the Manila Court, the British Crown filed its claim to the
estate by virtue of its caduciary rights, this being the provision of English internal
law, ‘the national law of Churchill.’ If the Court were to follow the ruling in the
Musurus case, the estate should go to the Philippines. But by virtue of what law
or doctrine?

2. Joaquin Chicote, a Spaniard, died domiciled in Manila, without any legal

heir. He left hands and movables in the Philippines. Under Article 16, par. 2 of
the civil Code, we refer to Spanish law for the purposes of determining who can
succeed and to what extent. Under the Spanish Civil Code, Spain succeeds as a
universal heir in the absence of legal heirs. Must the Philippine court give the
estate to Spain?


In the first example, the Manila court can make use of renvoi to justify the
application of Philippine internal law, thereby awarding the estate to the
Philippines. But in the second example, there is no occasion for the use of renvoi
since Spain and the Philippines follow the nationality principle. However, in both
cases, the overriding interest of the Philippines in the estate of the decedent is

Perhaps, the better solution may be found in the Hague Draft on

Succession. Regardless of the nature of the claim of the foreign State, as long as
there are no private heirs or beneficiaries, the rights of the State of the situs over
local assets will prevail over any other claim.