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Understanding testamentary succession

(First of two parts)

“Say not you know another entirely till you have divided an inheritance with him,” said Swiss poet Johann Kaspar Lavater.

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To be sure, conflicts in claiming inherited properties and sums of money often arise between the heirs instituted by the testator, or the person executing the will, and his compulsory heirs, or those to whom he is mandated by law to reserve a portion of his property called the legitime.

In navigating one’s self through this conflict, it should always be remembered that the testator’s act of executing his will is a strictly personal act—that is, it cannot be left in whole or in part to the discretion of a third person, or accomplished through the instrumentality of an agent or attorney. Relatedly, the duration or efficacy of the designation of the heirs, devisees or legatees, or the determination of the portions which they are to take, when referred to by name, cannot be left to the discretion of a third person.

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Moreover, the testator may entrust to a third person the distribution of specific property or sums of money that he may leave in general to specified classes or causes, and also the designation of the persons, institutions or establishments to which such property or sums are to be given or applied.

If a testamentary disposition in a will admits of different interpretations, in case of doubt, the interpretation by which the disposition is to be operative shall be preferred. Meanwhile, the words of a will are to be taken in their ordinary and grammatical sense, unless a clear intention to use them in another sense can be gathered, and that other can be ascertained.

Technical words in a will are to be taken in their technical sense, unless the context clearly indicates a contrary intention, or unless it satisfactorily appears that the will was drawn solely by the testator, and that he was unacquainted with such technical sense.

The words of a will must be interpreted so as to give every expression some effect, rather than one which will render any of the expressions inoperative. Thus, the preferred mode of interpreting a will is that which prevents intestacy, or succession by operation of law, from taking effect.

The invalidity of one of several dispositions contained in a will does not result in the invalidity of the other dispositions, unless it is to be presumed that the testator would not have made such other dispositions if the first invalid disposition had not been made.

Property acquired after the making of a will shall only pass thereby, as if the testator had possessed it at the time of making the will, should it expressly appear by the will that such was his intention.

In preparing his will, the testator may institute his heirs by designating therein the person or persons who are to succeed him in his property and transmissible rights and obligations.

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But, a will shall remain valid even though the testator has not instituted his heirs therein, or such institution should not comprise the entire estate, and even though the person so instituted should not accept the inheritance or should be incapacitated to succeed. In these cases, the testamentary dispositions made in accordance with law shall be complied with and the remainder of the estate shall pass to the legal heirs.

One who has no compulsory heirs may dispose by will of all his estate or any part of it in favor of any person having capacity to succeed. Meanwhile, one who has compulsory heirs may dispose of his estate for as long as he complies with the Civil Code provisions on the legitime of said heirs.

The testator shall designate the heir by his name and surname. When there are two persons having the same names, he shall indicate some circumstance by which the instituted heir may be known. Thus, even though the testator may have omitted the name of the heir, should he designate him in such manner that there can be no doubt as to who has been instituted, the institution shall be valid.

An error in the name, surname or circumstances of the heir shall not vitiate the institution when it is possible, in any other manner, to know with certainty the person instituted. If among persons having the same names and surnames, there is a similarity of circumstances in such a way that, even with the use of other proof, the person instituted cannot be identified, none of them shall be an heir.

(To be continued)

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