We want to seek your assistance regarding the parcels of land owned by my grandparents. They died in succession five years ago without a last will, leaving their properties to their two children, my aunt and my father. When my grandparents died, their two children agreed to divide the properties equally between them. But this did not happen because my father died just as soon as his parents died. Little did we know that my aunt transferred the title of these lands in her name alone. Does this mean that we can no longer recover my father’s share in the properties? Please help us on what to do.
According to you, your grandparents did not execute a last will and testament before they died. Thus, the law on intestate succession shall govern the partition and distribution of their estate among their heirs. Accordingly, the ownership of the properties mentioned in your letter was transferred, by operation of law, to your father and your aunt from the moment their parents died, they being the heirs of the latter (Article 774, New Civil Code of the Philippines).
However, instead of dividing these properties in equal portion between your father and your aunt and transferring the title thereof in their names, your aunt alone appropriated for herself the entire estate of your grandparents and had it titled in her name. But just because she was able to transfer the title of these properties in her name, it does not follow that she owns all these properties. She is considered as a mere trustee of the portion of these properties which was inherited by your father from their parents. This is according to the New Civil Code of the Philippines, specifically in the following articles:
“Art. 1451. When land passes by succession to any person and he causes the legal title to be put in the name of another, a trust is established by implication of law for the benefit of the true owner.”
“Art. 1456. If property is acquired through mistake or fraud, the person obtaining it is, by force of law, considered a trustee of an implied trust for the benefit of the person from whom the property comes.”
Likewise, the issuance of title does not vest ownership but it only evidences ownership of a land. The Supreme Court in the case of Heirs of Clemente Ermac vs. Heirs of Vicente Ermac (G.R. No. 149679, May 30, 2003) enunciated the following:
“Furthermore, ownership is not the same as a certificate of title. Registering a piece of land under the Torrens System does not create or vest title, because registration is not a mode of acquiring ownership. A certificate of title is merely an evidence of ownership or title over the particular property described therein. Its issuance in favor of a particular person does not foreclose the possibility that the real property may be co-owned with persons not named in the certificate, or that it may be held in trust for another person by the registered owner.”
Considering the foregoing, the right of your father over the half portion of the aforesaid properties was not extinguished just because the title of the same was transferred in the name of her sister. You may ask you aunt to reconvey half of these properties to you and your father’s other heirs. In the event that you fail to settle the same with your aunt, you may file an appropriate action in court for reconveyance or cancellation of title. You may likewise register an Affidavit of Adverse Claim to protect your right over the property and to inform the whole world of this right.
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.