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Love beyond the grave

Placid toiled and lived for a long time in the United States until he finally reached retirement. After 20 years in the land of Mickey Mouse, Placid finally returned to the Philippines.

He lived in a house and lot he co-owned with his sister. Two years after his arrival, at the ripe age of 80, he wed Josie who was then 28 years old. But their blissful togetherness was cut short when Placid died.

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Before he died, Placid executed a notarial last will and testament written in English and consisting of two pages. In his last will, he bequeathed unto his wife, Josie, one half portion of all the real properties which belongs to him as co-owner.

Letty, his niece, opposed the allowance to probate Placid’s will. She attacked the mental capacity of the testator, declaring that at the time of the execution of the notarial will, the testator was already 83 years old and was no longer of sound mind.

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She further contends that it was highly dubious for a woman at the prime of her young life to almost immediately plunge into marriage with a man who was thrice her age and who happened to be a Fil-American pensioner, thus casting doubt on the intention of Josie in seeking the probate of the will. Moreover, it supposedly defies human reason, logic and common experience for an old man with a severe psychological condition to have willingly signed a last will and testament.

Q: What does to probate a will mean?

A: To probate a will means to prove before some officer or tribunal, vested by law with authority for that purpose, that the instrument offered to be proved is the last will and testament of the deceased person whose testamentary act it is alleged to be, and that it has been executed, attested and published as required by law, and that the testator was of sound and disposing mind. It is a proceeding to establish the validity of the will. The presentation of the will for probate is mandatory and is a matter of public policy.

Q: What are the grounds for disallowing the probate of the will?

A: Verily, Article 839 of the Civil Code states the instances when a will may be disallowed, as follows: (1) If the formalities required by law have not been complied with; (2) If the testator was insane, or otherwise mentally incapable of making a will, at the time of its execution; (3) If it was executed through force or under duress, or the influence of fear, or threats; (4) If it was procured by undue and improper pressure and influence, on the part of the beneficiary or of some other person; (5) If the signature of the testator was procured by fraud; and (6) If the testator acted by mistake or did not intend that the instrument he signed should be his will at the time of affixing his signature thereto.

Q: What are the three things that the testator must have the ability to know to be considered of sound mind?

A: According to Article 799, the three things that the testator must have the ability to know to be considered of sound mind are as follows: (1) the nature of the estate to be disposed of, (2) the proper objects of the testator’s bounty, and (3) the character of the testamentary act.

Q: Does the fact that the very young wife was made the sole beneficiary of her octogenarian husband indicative of fraud?

A: No. Fraud “is a trick, secret device, false statement, or pretense, by which the subject of it is cheated. It may be of such character that the testator is misled or deceived as to the nature or contents of the document which he executes, or it may relate to some extrinsic fact, in consequence of the deception regarding which the testator is led to make a certain will which, but for the fraud, he would not have made.”

In this case, other than the self-serving allegations of Letty, no evidence of fraud was ever presented. It is a settled doctrine that the omission of some relatives does not affect the due execution of a will.

That the testator was tricked into signing was not sufficiently established by the fact that he had instituted his wife, who was more than 50 years his junior, as the sole beneficiary; and disregarded petitioner and her family, who were the ones who had taken the cudgels of taking care of [the testator] in his twilight years.

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(Sources: Lasam vs. Umengan, G.R. No. 168156, Dec. 6, 2006; Ortega vs Valmonte, G.R. No. 157451 Dec. 16, 2005)

Ma. Soledad Deriquito-Mawis is Dean, Lyceum of the Philippines University; Chairperson, Philippine Association of Law Schools; Founder, Mawis Law Office

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