G.R. No. 229010, November 23, 2020
If an alien-decedent duly executes a will in accordance with the forms and solemnities required by Philippine law, barring any other defect as to the extrinsic validity of the will, the courts may take cognizance of the petition and allow the probate of the will.
Lipson, an American citizen temporarily residing in Iriga City, executed her last will and testament and designated Roel R Gaspi (Gaspi) as executor. In 2015, at 70 years old, Lipson passed away due to lymphoma.Gaspi filed a Petition for the probate of Lipson’s will and the issuance of letters testamentary without bond on his behalf.
The RTC dismissed the petition for probate for lack of jurisdiction. It pointed out that Lipson was an American citizen. Thus, her national law must govern and her will must be probated in the United States of America, and not in the Philippines. Petitioner Gaspi contends that there is no prohibition under Philippine law for the probate of wills executed by aliens. He adds that under the Civil Code, the will of an alien residing abroad is also recognized in the Philippines, if it is made in accordance with the laws of the alien’s place of residence or country, or if done in conformity with Philippine laws.
1. Whether the Philippine court have jurisdiction over an alien’s will executed in the Philippines, even if it had not yet been probated before the alien decedent’s national court.
2. Whether Philippine law cannot be applied to determine the extrinsic validity of Lipson’s will.
1. YES. The probate of a will only involves its extrinsic validity and does not delve into its intrinsic validity, unless there are exceptional circumstances that would require the probate court to touch upon the intrinsic validity of the will. When it comes to the form and solemnities of wills, which are part of its extrinsic validity, the Civil Code provides that the law of the country of execution shall govern. Even if we assume that foreign law applies, it does not necessarily mean that the Philippine court loses jurisdiction. Foreign law, when relevant, must still be proven as a fact by evidence, as Philippine courts do not take judicial notice of foreign laws. Courts, therefore, retain jurisdiction over the subject matter (probate) and the res, which is the real property in Iriga in this case. Moreso, there was no objection with respect to the jurisdiction of the Regional Trial Court. Thus, the respondent committed grave abuse of discretion in motu proprio dismissing the case for lack of jurisdiction.
Article 816 covers a situation where the decedent was abroad when the will was executed. It provides that the will can be submitted for probate here in the Philippines, using either the law where the decedent resides or our own law. On the other hand, Article 817 provides that a will by an alien executed in the Philippines shall be treated as if it were executed according to Philippine laws if it was validly executed and accordingly could have been probated under the laws of the alien’s country of nationality.
ARTICLE 817. A will made in the Philippines by a citizen or subject of another country, which is executed in accordance with the law of the country of which he is a citizen or subject, 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.
Wills of foreigners executed in the Philippines may be probated if they have estate in the Philippines, because probate of the properties can only be effected under Philippine law. Here, Lipson’s will was executed in Iriga City, Philippines, where she had real property. Thus, Philippine law on the formalities of wills applies. Assuming that Lipson executed the will in accordance with Philippine law, the Regional Trial Court did not lack jurisdiction over the petition.
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