G.R. No. 246997, May 05, 2021
Cecilia was born in 1932 with a physical disability and was known in the locality as a “lumpo.” Corazon passed away when Cecilia was just one (1) year old and the latter was left in the care and custody of her maternal aunt, Mercedes Esguerra Guia (Mercedes). Because of her physical condition, Cecilia spent most of her days in her bedroom. She never attended school nor learned to read or write. In 1996, when she was sixty-four (64) years old, Cecilia decided to execute her last will and testament. Cecilia asked Atty. Bueser, then a notary public for assistance in preparing the last will. The finished copy of her last will and testament denominated Huling Habilin at Pagpapasiya which consisted of four (4) pages. Mercedes was left all the properties.
In the presence of Liberato, Reynaldo, and Ricardo who served as notarial witnesses to Cecilia’s Huling Habilin at Pagpapasiya, Atty. Bueser read the contents of the document to Cecilia and carefully explained to her its effects and consequences. He then asked her if she fully understood its contents and whether it was done according to her wishes. Cecilia confirmed. Cecilia died at the age of seventy-four (74). In 2009, Mercedes died. Thelma (adopted child of Mercedes) filed a Petition for probate of Cecilia’s will and for her appointment as administrator of the latter’s estate before the Regional Trial Court. Cecilia’s half siblings from the same father, respondents opposed the petition. They essentially alleged that the formalities for the execution of a valid will under Articles 805 to 809 of the Civil Code were not complied with. More, Cecilia was not mentally capacitated at the time she purportedly executed her will; if at all, she signed it under duress and improper pressure from the beneficiary; the alleged thumbprint of Cecilia was procured through fraud; and Cecilia did not intend the document denominated Huling Habilin at Pagpapasiya to be her last will and testament.
The trial court essentially ruled that Cecilia freely and voluntarily executed the will, during which time, she was of sound mind. The Huling Habilin at Pagpapasiya was executed in accordance with the formal and essential requisites of law. While she was considered a lumpo, Cecilia knew fully well the nature of her properties to be disposed of, the proper subjects of her bounty, and the character of her testamentary act. The Court of Appeals reversed. It ruled that Cecilia’s Huling Habilin at Pagpapasiya was void since it violated Article 808 of the Civil Code.
1. Was the Huling Habilin at Pagpapasiya executed in compliance with Article 808 of the Civil Code?
2. Was the Huling Habilin at Pagpapasiya supposedly fatally defective for not having been read twice: once, by one of the subscribing witnesses; and again by the notary public before whom it was acknowledged in view of Cecilia’s illiteracy?
1. YES. While the law imposes the requirement only when the testator is blind, the Court has expanded its coverage to those who are illiterate. The rationale behind the requirement of reading the will to the testator if he is blind or incapable of reading the will himself (as when he is illiterate), is to make the provisions thereof known to him, so that he may be able to object if they are not in accordance with his wishes.
2. NO. Though Alvarado seemingly extended the application of Article 808 to cover not just the blind but also the illiterates, the same case also recognized an exception to the rule – substantial compliance. We find this exception applicable here. In the case of Alvarado, the Court nevertheless allowed the will probate on the ground of substantial compliance — held in a number of occasions that substantial compliance is acceptable where the purpose of the law has been satisfied, the reason being that the solemnities surrounding the execution of wills are intended to protect the testator from all kinds of fraud and trickery but are never intended to be so rigid and inflexible as to destroy the testamentary privilege. The spirit behind the law was served though the letter was not. Although there should be strict compliance with the substantial requirements of the law in order to insure the authenticity of the will, the formal imperfections should be brushed aside when they do not affect its purpose and which, when taken into account, may only defeat the testator’s will.
Indeed, the purpose of a will is to grant the wishes of a person upon his/her death, especially with respect to the disposition of his/her worldly possessions. Both law and jurisprudence are consistent in allowing a degree of flexibility with the requirements in the execution of wills, especially as to the formal aspect. Notably, Atty. Bueser read and explained the contents of the Huling Habilin at Pagpapasiya to Cecilia. Meanwhile, Liberato and Reynaldo listened and understood the explanation of Atty. Bueser. It is also undisputed that Cecilia made no denial or correction to what she had heard. Verily, Cecilia’s Huling Habilin at Pagpapasiya and Reynaldo’s testimony are consistent on the most material point in the will that her properties shall be inherited by her aunt, Mercedes.
In sum, Article 808 is meant to protect the testator from all kinds of fraud and trickery but is never intended to be so rigid and inflexible as to destroy the testamentary privilege. Here, the danger that Article 808 is designed to prevent is undoubtedly nonexistent. As such, the trial court correctly ruled that the Huling Habilin at Pagpapasiya had substantially complied with its spirit for the purpose of admitting it to probate.
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