Last will and testament; allowance/disallowance; formalities; probate - G.R. No. 174489

G.R. No. 174489

"x x x.

            The pivotal issue is whether the authenticity and due execution of the notarial Will was sufficiently established to warrant its allowance for probate.

Our Ruling

We deny the petition.

Faithful compliance with the formalities
laid down by law is apparent from the face of the Will.

Courts are tasked to determine nothing more than the extrinsic validity of a
Will in probate proceedings.[64]  This is expressly provided for in Rule 75, Section 1 of the Rules of Court, which states:

Rule 75

Section 1. Allowance necessary. Conclusive as to execution. – No will shall pass either real or personal estate unless it is proved and allowed in the proper court. Subject to the right of appeal, such allowance of the will shall be conclusive as to its due execution.

Due execution of the will or its extrinsic validity pertains to whether the testator, being of sound mind, freely executed the will in accordance with the formalities prescribed by law.[65]  These formalities are enshrined in Articles 805 and 806 of the New Civil Code, to wit:

Art. 805. Every will, other than a holographic will, must be subscribed at the end thereof by the testator himself or by the testator's name written by some other person in his presence, and by his express direction, and attested and subscribed by three or more credible witnesses in the presence of the testator and of one another.

The testator or the person requested by him to write his name and the instrumental witnesses of the will, shall also sign, as aforesaid, each and every page thereof, except the last, on the left margin, and all the pages shall be numbered correlatively in letters placed on the upper part of each page.

The attestation shall state the number of pages used upon which the will is written, and the fact that the testator signed the will and every page thereof, or caused some other person to write his name, under his express direction, in the presence of the instrumental witnesses, and that the latter witnessed and signed the will and all the pages thereof in the presence of the testator and of one another.

If the attestation clause is in a language not known to the witnesses, it shall be interpreted to them.
Art. 806. Every will must be acknowledged before a notary public by the testator and the witnesses. The notary public shall not be required to retain a copy of the will, or file another with the Office of the Clerk of Court.

Here, a careful examination of the face of the Will shows faithful compliance with the formalities laid down by law.  The signatures of the testatrix, Paciencia, her instrumental witnesses and the notary public, are all present and evident on the Will. Further, the attestation clause explicitly states the critical requirement that the testatrix and her instrumental witnesses signed the Will in the presence of one another and that the witnesses attested and subscribed to the Will in the presence of the testator and of one another.  In fact, even the petitioners acceded that the signature of Paciencia in the Will may be authentic although they question her state of mind when she signed the same as well as the voluntary nature of said act.

The burden to prove that Paciencia was of unsound mind at the time of the execution of the will lies on the shoulders of the petitioners.

Petitioners, through their witness Rosie, claim that Paciencia was “magulyan” or forgetful so much so that it effectively stripped her of testamentary capacity. They likewise claimed in their Motion for Reconsideration[66] filed with the CA that Paciencia was not only “magulyan” but was actually suffering from paranoia.[67] 

We are not convinced.  

We agree with the position of the CA that the state of being forgetful does not necessarily make a person mentally unsound so as to render him unfit to execute a Will.[68]  Forgetfulness is not equivalent to being of unsound mind.  Besides, Article 799 of the New Civil Code states:

Art.  799.    To be of sound mind, it is not necessary that the testator be in full possession of all his reasoning faculties, or that his mind be wholly unbroken, unimpaired, or unshattered by disease, injury or other cause.

It shall be sufficient if the testator was able at the time of making the will to know the nature of the estate to be disposed of, the proper objects of his bounty, and the character of the testamentary act.

In this case, apart from the testimony of Rosie pertaining to Paciencia’s forgetfulness, there is no substantial evidence, medical or otherwise, that would show that Paciencia was of unsound mind at the time of the execution of the Will.  On the other hand, we find more worthy of credence Dra. Limpin’s testimony as to the soundness of mind of Paciencia when the latter went to Judge Limpin’s house and voluntarily executed the Will.  “The testimony of subscribing witnesses to a Will concerning the testator’s mental condition is entitled to great weight where they are truthful and intelligent.”[69] More importantly, a testator is presumed to be of sound mind at the time of the execution of the Will and the burden to prove otherwise lies on the oppositor.  Article 800 of the New Civil Code states:

Art. 800. The law presumes that every person is of sound mind, in the absence of proof to the contrary.

The burden of proof that the testator was not of sound mind at the time of making his dispositions is on the person who opposes the probate of the will; but if the testator, one month, or less, before making his will was publicly known to be insane, the person who maintains the validity of the will must prove that the testator made it during a lucid interval.

Here, there was no showing that Paciencia was publicly known to be insane one month or less before the making of the Will.  Clearly, thus, the burden to prove that Paciencia was of unsound mind lies upon the shoulders of petitioners.  However and as earlier mentioned, no substantial evidence was presented by them to prove the same, thereby warranting the CA’s finding that petitioners failed to discharge such burden.

            Furthermore, we are convinced that Paciencia was aware of the nature of her estate to be disposed of, the proper objects of her bounty and the character of the testamentary act.  As aptly pointed out by the CA:

A scrutiny of the Will discloses that [Paciencia] was aware of the nature of the document she executed.  She specially requested that the customs of her faith be observed upon her death. She was well aware of how she acquired the properties from her parents and the properties she is bequeathing to LORENZO, to his wife CORAZON and to his two (2) children. A third child was born after the execution of the will and was not included therein as devisee.[70]

Bare allegations of duress or influence of fear or threats, undue and improper influence and pressure, fraud and trickery cannot be used as basis to deny the probate of a will.

An essential element of the validity of the Will is the willingness of the testator or testatrix to execute the document that will distribute his/her earthly possessions upon his/her death.  Petitioners claim that Paciencia was forced to execute the Will under duress or influence of fear or threats; that the execution of the Will had been procured by undue and improper pressure and influence by Lorenzo or by some other persons for his benefit; and that assuming Paciencia’s signature to be genuine, it was obtained through fraud or trickery.  These are grounded on the alleged conversation between Paciencia and Antonio on September 16, 1981 wherein the former purportedly repudiated the Will and left it unsigned.

We are not persuaded.  
We take into consideration the unrebutted fact that Paciencia loved and treated Lorenzo as her own son and that love even extended to Lorenzo’s wife and children.  This kind of relationship is not unusual.  It is in fact not unheard of in our culture for old maids or spinsters to care for and raise their nephews and nieces and treat them as their own children.  Such is a prevalent and accepted cultural practice that has resulted in many family discords between those favored by the testamentary disposition of a testator and those who stand to benefit in case of intestacy. 

In this case, evidence shows the acknowledged fact that Paciencia’s relationship with Lorenzo and his family is different from her relationship with petitioners.  The very fact that she cared for and raised Lorenzo and lived with him both here and abroad, even if the latter was already married and already has children, highlights the special bond between them. This unquestioned relationship between Paciencia and the devisees tends to support the authenticity of the said document as against petitioners’ allegations of duress, influence of fear or threats, undue and improper influence, pressure, fraud, and trickery which, aside from being factual in nature, are not supported by concrete, substantial and credible evidence on record.  It is worth stressing that bare arguments, no matter how forceful, if not based on concrete and substantial evidence cannot suffice to move the Court to uphold said allegations.[71]  Furthermore, “a purported will is not [to be] denied legalization on dubious grounds.  Otherwise, the very institution of testamentary succession will be shaken to its foundation, for even if a will has been duly executed in fact, whether x x x it will be probated would have to depend largely on the attitude of those interested in [the estate of the deceased].”[72]

Court should be convinced by the evidence presented before it that the Will was duly executed.

Petitioners dispute the authenticity of Paciencia’s Will on the ground that Section 11 of Rule 76 of the Rules of Court was not complied with.  It provides:

Section 11. Subscribing witnesses produced or accounted for where will contested. – If the will is contested, all the subscribing witnesses, and the notary in the case of wills executed under the Civil Code of the Philippines, if present in the Philippines and not insane, must be produced and examined, and the death, absence, or insanity of any of them must be satisfactorily shown to the court. If all or some of such witnesses are present in the Philippines but outside the province where the will has been filed, their deposition must be taken. If any or all of them testify against the due execution of the will, or do not remember having attested to it, or are otherwise of doubtful credibility, the will may nevertheless, be allowed if the court is satisfied from the testimony of other witnesses and from all the evidence presented that the will was executed and attested in the manner required by law.

If a holographic will is contested, the same shall be allowed if at least three (3) witnesses who know the handwriting of the testator explicitly declare that the will and the signature are in the handwriting of the testator; in the absence of any competent witnesses, and if the court deem it necessary, expert testimony may be resorted to. (Emphasis supplied.)

They insist that all subscribing witnesses and the notary public should have been presented in court since all but one witness, Francisco, are still living.

We cannot agree with petitioners. 

We note that the inability of Faustino and Judge Limpin to appear and testify before the court was satisfactorily explained  during the probate proceedings. As testified to by his son, Faustino had a heart attack, was already bedridden and could no longer talk and express himself due to brain damage.  To prove this, said witness presented the corresponding medical certificate.  For her part, Dra. Limpin testified that her father, Judge Limpin, suffered a stroke in 1991 and had to undergo brain surgery.  At that time, Judge Limpin could no longer talk and could not even remember his daughter’s name so that Dra. Limpin stated that given such condition, her father could no longer testify.  It is well to note that at that point, despite ample opportunity, petitioners neither interposed any objections to the testimonies of said witnesses nor challenged the same on cross examination.  We thus hold that for all intents and purposes, Lorenzo was able to satisfactorily account for the incapacity and failure of the said subscribing witness and of the notary public to testify in court.  Because of this the probate of Paciencia’s Will may be allowed on the basis of Dra. Limpin’s testimony proving her sanity and the due execution of the Will, as well as on the proof of her handwriting.  It is an established rule that “[a] testament may not be disallowed just because the attesting witnesses declare against its due execution; neither does it have to be necessarily allowed just because all the attesting witnesses declare in favor of its legalization; what is decisive is that the court is convinced by evidence before it, not necessarily from the attesting witnesses, although they must testify, that the will was or was not duly executed in the manner required by law.”[73]

Moreover, it bears stressing that “[i]rrespective x x x of the posture of any of the parties as regards the authenticity and due execution of the will x x x in question, it is the mandate of the law that it is the evidence before the court and/or [evidence that] ought to be before it that is controlling.”[74]  “The very existence of [the Will] is in itself prima facie proof that the supposed [testatrix] has willed that [her] estate be distributed in the manner therein provided, and it is incumbent upon the state that, if legally tenable, such desire be given full effect independent of the attitude of the parties affected thereby.”[75]This, coupled with Lorenzo’s established relationship with Paciencia, the evidence and the testimonies of disinterested witnesses, as opposed to the total lack of evidence presented by petitioners apart from their self-serving testimonies, constrain us to tilt the balance in favor of the authenticity of the Will and its allowance for probate.  
 x x x."
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