Heirs acquire predecessor’s liabilities only to certain ‘extent’

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Persida Acosta

Dear PAO,
My two siblings and I are the only surviving heirs of my father. A person claiming to be his creditor came over demanding payment of a huge sum of money, which our father allegedly owes him, and he presented a notarized document bearing the signature of our father acknowledging the debt. He argued that we are under obligation to settle our father’s debt. Is he correct?
Sincerely yours,
Keira

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Dear Keira,
Article 777 of the Civil Code provides that “the rights to the succession are transmitted from the moment of the death of the decedent.” Corollarily, Articles 774 and 776 of the Code provide that the successor acquires, apart from the properties and rights of his predecessor, the obligations of the latter. The Civil Code, however, limits the liability of an heir for the obligation of his predecessor, “to the extent of the value of the inheritance.” The surviving heir, therefore, cannot be made liable for his predecessor’s obligations in excess of what she may receive as inheritance. The pertinent provisions of the Civil Code are as follows:

“ART. 774. Succession is a mode of acquisition by virtue of which the property, rights and obligations to the extent of the value of the inheritance, of a person are transmitted through his death to another or others either by his will or by operation of law.

“ART. 776. The inheritance includes all the property, rights and obligations of a person which are not extinguished by his death.”

The limitation on the liability of the heir for the obligation of the deceased is further recognized and stressed by the Supreme Court in William Ong Genato vs. Benjamin Bayhon (G.R. No. 17035, August 24, 2009), through former Chief Justice Reynato Puno, citing Estate of Hemady vs. Luzon Surety Co. Inc. The High Court held:

“While in our successional system the responsibility of the heirs for the debts of their decedent cannot exceed the value of the inheritance they receive from him, the principle remains intact that these heirs succeed not only to the rights of the deceased but also to his obligations.”

Based on the foregoing, the creditor of your father is correct in his argument that you, being an heir, acquired the obligations of your father by virtue of succession. The Civil Code clearly provides that your responsibility as heirs cannot exceed the value of your inheritance.

Again, we find it necessary to mention that this opinion is solely based on the facts you have narrated and our appreciation of the same. The opinion may vary when the facts are changed or elaborated.

We hope that we were able to enlighten you on the matter.

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