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Capacity to Succeed

What law should apply


Capacity to succeed is governed by the law of the nation of the decedent.1

Under the Civil Code, there is a disputable presumption that every person, whether natural or
juridical, can succeed either ex testament or ab intestate. Persons not incapacitated by law may
succeed by will or ab intestato. 2 In order that a person can inherit either by will or by intestacy,
the following requisites must concur: first, that the heir, legatee or devisee must be living or in
existence at the moment the succession opens; and second, that such heir, legatee or devisee
must not be incapacitated by law to succeed. 3

Incapacity to succeed may be either absolute or relative. Absolute incapacity is the incapacity of
a person, whether natural or juridical, to succeed any person in any form with regard to any
property. Relative incapacity, on the other hand, is the incapacity of a person, whether natural or
juridical, to succeed by reason of a special relation which he has to the decedent, or to other
persons, or to the property disposed of.4

A child already conceived at the time of death of the decedent is capable of succeeding provided
that it be born under the conditions set forth by Article 41.

The national law of decedent govern capacity to succeed


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 by him against the deceased,
whether a corporation or an unborn child can acquire property by succession, and whether an
heir can validly renounce his rights to succession by a solemn agreement of renunciation
executed between the heir and the deceased during the latter’s lifetime.5

Philippine law governs over the estate of a citizen of California who is domiciled in the
Philippines before his death

The laws of California have prescribed two sets of laws for its citizens, one for residents therein
and another for those domiciled in other jurisdictions. Reason demands that We should enforce
the California internal law prescribed for its citizens residing therein, and enforce the conflict of
laws rules for the citizens domiciled abroad. As the domicile of the deceased Christensen, a
citizen of California, is the Philippines, the validity of the provisions of his will depriving his
acknowledged natural child, the appellant, should be governed by the Philippine Law, the
domicile, pursuant to Art. 946 of the Civil Code of California, not by the internal law of
California.6
1
Article 1039, New Civil Code
2
Art 1024, New Civil Code
3
Jurado, D. (2009). Comments and Jurisprudence on Succession.
4
Lbid.
5
Bellis v Bellis, G.R. No. L-23678 June 6, 1967
6
Aznar v Christensen Garcia,G.R. No. L-16749 January 31, 1963
Case Study
Aznar v Christensen Garcia
G.R. No. L-16749             January 31, 1963
LABRADOR, J.:

Edward E. Christensen was a citizen of the United States and of the State of California before his
death. He came to the Philippines where he was domiciled until the time of his death. He
executed a will in Manila wherein: a. he declared that he only has one child named Maria Lucy
Christensen and has no living ascendants and descendants; b. he bequeathed to Maria Helen
Christensen, P3,600 which is to be deposited in trust with PNB, and to Maria Lucy Christensen
all income from the rest , remainder and residue of his property and estate. The executor filed for
a petition of the partition of estate of Edward Christensen based on the provisions of the will.
Helen Christensen Garcia opposed to the approval of the partition insofar as it deprives her
(Helen) of her legitime as an acknowledged natural child, she having been declared by the court
as an acknowledged natural child of the deceased Edward E. Christensen.

The executor-appellee contends that under the California Probate Code, a testator may dispose of
his property by will in the form and manner he desires, citing the case of In re Kaufman. As the
deceased Christensen was a citizen of the State of California, the internal law thereof, should
govern the determination of the validity of the testamentary provisions of Christensen's will,
such law being in force in the State of California of which Christensen was a citizen.

Appellant Helen, on the other hand, insists that Article 946 of the Civil Code of California, is
applicable which is as follows:

If there is no law to the contrary, in the place where personal property is situated, it is
deemed to follow the person of its owner, and is governed by the law of his domicile.

And in accordance therewith and following the doctrine of the renvoi, the question of the
validity of the testamentary provision in question should be referred back to the law of the
decedent's domicile, which is the Philippines.

Issue:

Which law should govern regarding the distribution of the estate of the testator?

Held:

The Philippine laws, being the domicile of the testator in accordance with Art 946 should
govern.

The theory of the doctrine of renvoi is that the court of the forum, in determining the question
before it, must take into account the whole law of the other jurisdiction, but also its rules as to
conflict of laws, and then apply the law to the actual question which the rules of the other
jurisdiction prescribe. This may be the law of the forum. The recognition of the renvoi theory
implies that the rules of the conflict of laws are to be understood as incorporating not only the
ordinary or internal law of the foreign state or country, but its rules of the conflict of laws as
well. According to this theory 'the law of a country' means the whole of its law.

We note that Article 946 of the California Civil Code is its conflict of laws rule, while the rule
applied in In re Kaufman, Supra, its internal law. If the law on succession and the conflict of
laws rules of California are to be enforced jointly, each in its own intended and appropriate
sphere, the principle cited In re Kaufman should apply to citizens living in the State, but Article
946 should apply to such of its citizens as are not domiciled in California but in other
jurisdictions. The rule laid down of resorting to the law of the domicile in the determination of
matters with foreign element involved is in accord with the general principle of American law
that the domiciliary law should govern in most matters or rights which follow the person of the
owner.

The laws of California have prescribed two sets of laws for its citizens, one for residents therein
and another for those domiciled in other jurisdictions. Reason demands that We should enforce
the California internal law prescribed for its citizens residing therein, and enforce the conflict of
laws rules for the citizens domiciled abroad. If we must enforce the law of California as in
comity we are bound to go, as so declared in Article 16 of our Civil Code, then we must enforce
the law of California in accordance with the express mandate thereof and as above explained,
i.e., apply the internal law for residents therein, and its conflict-of-laws rule for those domiciled
abroad.

The national law mentioned in Article 16 of our Civil Code is the law on conflict of laws in the
California Civil Code, i.e., Article 946, which authorizes the reference or return of the question
to the law of the testator's domicile. The conflict of laws rule in California, Article 946, Civil
Code, precisely refers back the case, when a decedent is not domiciled in California, to the law
of his domicile, the Philippines in the case at bar. The court of the domicile can not and should
not refer the case back to California; such action would leave the issue incapable of
determination because the case will then be like a football, tossed back and forth between the
two states, between the country of which the decedent was a citizen and the country of his
domicile. The Philippine court must apply its own law as directed in the conflict of laws rule of
the state of the decedent, if the question has to be decided, especially as the application of the
internal law of California provides no legitime for children while the Philippine law, Arts. 887(4)
and 894, Civil Code of the Philippines, makes natural children legally acknowledged forced heirs
of the parent recognizing them.

As the domicile of the deceased Christensen, a citizen of California, is the Philippines, the
validity of the provisions of his will depriving his acknowledged natural child, the appellant,
should be governed by the Philippine Law, the domicile, pursuant to Art. 946 of the Civil Code
of California, not by the internal law of California.
Interpretation of Wills

What laws should apply

The following are the rules in interpretation of wills:

a. As in contracts, the provisions of a will shall be interpreted in accordance with the


testator’s intention. If the terms are clear and unambiguous, the literal meaning of the
stipulations shall control. The evident intention of the testator must prevail by not only
referring to the context of the will but also taking into account the contemporaneous and
subsequent acts of the testator.7

The rule that the testatorial intention governs in the construction of a will has been held to
apply to every clause and part of the instrument. And a testator’s intention, it has been
said, is necessarily his intention when the will was executed.8

b. If the testator’s intention cannot be ascertained by the preceding rules, the interpretation
of ambiguous words must be made in accordance with the law which was most probably
in the mind of the testator when he used those words and with which is presumed to be
most familiar.9

c. If the will admits of different interpretations, that which will make the dispositions
operative shall be preferred. The interpretation that will give the will the most favorable
construction to accomplish the purpose shall be made.10

Under this rule, that construction is to be adopted which will sustain and uphold the will
in all its parts, if it can be done consistently with the established rules of law. If the
language used is reasonably susceptible of two different interpretations, one which will
defeat, and the other sustain, the provisions, the doubt is to be resolved in favor of the
construction which will give effect to the will, rather than the one which will defeat it.11
d. Every effort should be made to prevent intestacy in keeping with the policy of respecting
the will of the testator, provided that this can be ascertained.12

7
Articles 1370 to 1378, New Civil Code
8
Jurado, D. (2009). Comments and Jurisprudence on Succession.
9
Sempio Dy, A. (2004)Handbook on Conflicts of Law.
10
Arts 788-792, New Civil Code
11
Jurado, D. (2009). Comments and Jurisprudence on Succession.
12
Sempio Dy, A. (2004)Handbook on Conflicts of Law.