My aunt died about 12 years ago. I’m her only heir, so I did not bother to settle her estate, as I thought I was not competing with anybody. She has several properties in the province. While I was chatting with a friend a few days ago, he told me that the government can take my aunt’s property if her estate remains unclaimed and unsettled after some years. Is this true?
It is true that the government may take your aunt’s property. The act of the government in claiming an unsettled estate is called escheat. The rules for escheat is found in Rule 91 of the Rules of Court. Escheat is a proceeding whereby real and personal properties in the Philippines of a deceased person who has left no will or legal heirs become the properties of the state. It is based on the principle that the state has ultimate ownership of all properties within its jurisdiction.
According to Section 1 of Rule 91 of the Rules of Court, a property may be declared escheated when the person dies intestate and has left no heir or person by law to receive the estate and the deceased has real or personal property in the Philippines. If these two requisites are present, the Solicitor General or his representative files a petition in the Regional Trial Court where the deceased last resided or in which the estate may be found if the deceased resided out of the Philippines.
Once the petition is filed, all interested parties will be notified and the order for hearing of the petition shall be published at least once a week for six (6) consecutive weeks in a newspaper of general circulation published in the province, as the court shall deem best (Section 2, Rule 91, Rules of Court). Afterwards, a hearing will be conducted, and if the court finds the petition to be in order, it shall order the estate to be escheated (Section 3, Rule 91, Rules of Court). If there is actually an heir entitled to the estate, the heir may file a claim within five (5) years from the date of judgment. If no claim is made within the five (5) year limit, any claim is forever barred (Section 4, Rule 91, Rules of Court).
Looking at the said rule on escheat, the government must first file a petition for escheat. If the government has not filed any petition for your aunt’s properties, then you need not worry. If the government has actually filed a petition, you have five (5) years from the date of judgment to claim the estate.
We hope that we were able to enlighten you on the matter. Please be reminded that this advice is based solely on the facts you have narrated and our appreciation of the same. Our opinion may vary when other facts are changed or elaborated.
Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org