Adolfo Aznar vs. Helen Christensen Garcia

G.R. No. L-16749, January 31, 1963

FACTS:

Edward E. Christensen was a citizen of the United States and of the State of California but was domiciled in the Philippines at the time of his death. In accordance with the provisions of the will of the testator,  the estate shall be  distributed, which provides Php 3,600 be given to HELEN Christensen and the rest of his estate to his daughter LUCY Christensen. 

Helen filed an opposition insofar as it deprives her of her legitime as an acknowledged natural child under the laws of the Philippines. She insisted that Article 946, California Civil Code should be applicable following the doctrine of renvoi – “if there is no law to the contrary in the place where personal property is situated, it is deemed to follow the decree of its owner and is governed by the law of the domicile”.

The executor argued that 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. Provided that the  testator has the right to dispose of his property in the way he desires, because the right of absolute dominion over his property is sacred and inviolable.

ISSUE:

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Whether the validity of the testamentary provision in question should be referred back to the law of the decedent’s domicile, as provided by the laws of California, which is the Philippines.

HELD:

YES. 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.

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.

The conflict of laws rule in California, Article 946, 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.

Notes:

  • 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.
  • Renvoi takes place when the conflicts rule of the forum makes a reference to a foreign law, but the foreign law is found to contain a conflict rule that returns or refers the matter back to the law of the forum (Remission).

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