Rule 73 – Settlement of Estate of Deceased Persons

Cortes vs. CA (GR: 117417)

The long standing rule is that probate courts, or those in charge of proceedings whether testate or intestate, cannot adjudicate or determine title to properties claimed to be part of the estate and which are claimed to belong to outside parties. Stated otherwise, “claims for title to, or right of possession of, personal or real property, made by the heirs themselves, by title adverse to that of the deceased, or made by third persons, cannot be entertained by the (probate) court.

In the present case, however, private respondent Menandro A. Reselva, who refused to vacate the house and lot being eyed as part of the estate of the late Teodoro T. Reselva, cannot be considered an “outside party” for he is one of the three compulsory heirs of the former. As such, he is very much involved in the settlement of Teodoro’s estate. By way of exception to the above-mentioned rule, “when the parties are all heirs of the decedent, it is optional upon them to submit to the probate court the question of title to property.” Here, the probate court is competent to decide the question of ownership. More so, when the opposing parties belong to the poor stratum of society and a separate action would be most expensive and inexpedient.

In addition, Menandro’s claim is not at all adverse to, or in conflict with that of, the decedent since the former’s theory merely advances co-ownership with the latter. In the same way, when the controversy is whether the property in issue belongs to the conjugal partnership or exclusively to the decedent, the same is properly within the jurisdiction of the probate court, which necessarily has to liquidate the conjugal partnership in order to determine the estate of the decedent which is to be distributed among the heirs.

Mendoza vs. Teh (GR: 122646)

An action for reconveyance, which involves title title to property worth millions of pesos, such as the lots subject of this case, is cognizable by the RTC. Likewise falling within its jurisdiction are actions incapable of pecuniary estimation, such as the appointment of an administratrix for an estate. Even the Rules on venue of estate proceedings (Section 1 of Rule 73) impliedly recognizes the jurisdiction of the RTC over petitions for granting of letters of administration. On the other hand, probate proceedings for the settlement of estate are within the ambit of either the RTC or MTC depending on the net worth of the estate. By arguing that the allegation seeking such appointment as administratrix ousted the RTC of its jurisdiction, both public and private respondents confuses jurisdiction with venue. Section 2 of Rule 4 as revised by Circular 13-95 provides that actions involving title to property shall be tried in the province where the property is located, in this case, – Batangas. The mere fact that petitioners deceased husband resides in Quezon City at the time of his death affects only the venue but not the jurisdiction of the Court.

Second, the cases cited by private respondents are not at point as they involve settlement of estate where the probate court was asked to resolve questions of ownership of certain properties. In the present suit, no settlement of estate is involved, but merely an allegation seeking appointment as estate administratrix which does not necessarily involve settlement of estate that would have invited the exercise of the limited jurisdiction of a probate court. The above allegation is not even a jurisdictional fact which must be stated in an action for reconveyance. The Court therefore, should have at least, proceeded with the reconveyance suit rather than dismiss the entire case.

Third, jurisprudential rulings that a probate court cannot generally decide questions of ownership or title to property is not applicable in this case, because: there is no settlement of estate involved and the RTC of Batangas was not acting as a probate court. It should be clarified that whether a particular matter should be resolved by the RTC in the exercise of its general jurisdiction or its limited probate jurisdiction, is not a jurisdictional issue but a mere question of procedure.  Moreover, the instant action for reconveyance does not even invoke the limited jurisdiction of a probate court.  Considering that the RTC has jurisdiction, whether it be on the reconveyance suit or as to the appointment of an administratrix, it was improper for respondent judge to dismiss the whole complaint for alleged lack of jurisdiction.

In Re:  Palaganas (GR: 169144)

The key issue presented in this case is whether or not a will executed by a foreigner abroad may be probated in the Philippines although it has not been previously probated and allowed in the country where it was executed.

XXX

Our laws do not prohibit the probate of wills executed by foreigners abroad although the same have not as yet been probated and allowed in the countries of their execution. A foreign will can be given legal effects in our jurisdiction. Article 816 of the Civil Code states that the will of an alien who is abroad produces effect in the Philippines if made in accordance with the formalities prescribed by the law of the place where he resides, or according to the formalities observed in his country.

In this connection, Section 1, Rule 73 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure provides that if the decedent is an inhabitant of a foreign country, the RTC of the province where he has an estate may take cognizance of the settlement of such estate. Sections 1 and 2 of Rule 76 further state that the executor, devisee, or legatee named in the will, or any other person interested in the estate, may, at any time after the death of the testator, petition the court having jurisdiction to have the will allowed, whether the same be in his possession or not, or is lost or destroyed.

Our rules require merely that the petition for the allowance of a will must show, so far as known to the petitioner: (a) the jurisdictional facts; (b) the names, ages, and residences of the heirs, legatees, and devisees of the testator or decedent; (c) the probable value and character of the property of the estate; (d) the name of the person for whom letters are prayed; and (e)  if the will has not been delivered to the court, the name of the person having custody of it. Jurisdictional facts refer to the fact of death of the decedent, his residence at the time of his death in the province where the probate court is sitting, or if he is an inhabitant of a foreign country, the estate he left in such province. The rules do not require proof that the foreign will has already been allowed and probated in the country of its execution.

San Luis vs. Sagalongos (GR 133743)

It is incorrect for petitioners to argue that residence, for purposes of fixing the venue of the settlement of the estate of Felicisimo, is synonymous with domicile. The rulings in Nuval and Romualdez are inapplicable to the instant case because they involve election cases. Needless to say, there is a distinction between residence for purposes of election laws and residence for purposes of fixing the venue of actions. In election cases, residence and domicile are treated as synonymous terms, that is, the fixed permanent residence to which when absent, one has the intention of returning. However, for purposes of fixing venue under the Rules of Court, the residence of a person is his personal, actual or physical habitation, or actual residence or place of abode, which may not necessarily be his legal residence or domicile provided he resides therein with continuity and consistency.  Hence, it is possible that a person may have his residence in one place and domicile in another.

In the instant case, while petitioners established that Felicisimo was domiciled in Sta. Cruz, Laguna, respondent proved that he also maintained a residence in Alabang, Muntinlupa from 1982 up to the time of his death. Respondent submitted in evidence the Deed of Absolute Sale dated January 5, 1983 showing that the deceased purchased the aforesaid property. She also presented billing statements from the Philippine Heart Center and Chinese General Hospital for the period August to December 1992 indicating the address of Felicisimo at 100 San Juanico, Ayala Alabang, Muntinlupa. Respondent also presented proof of membership of the deceased in the Ayala Alabang Village Association and Ayala Country Club, Inc., letter-envelopes from 1988 to 1990 sent by the deceaseds children to him at his Alabang address, and the deceaseds calling cards stating that his home/city address is at 100 San Juanico, Ayala Alabang Village, Muntinlupa while his office/provincial address is in Provincial Capitol, Sta. Cruz, Laguna.

 

 

 

 

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