Legal obligations of heirs to prevent incurring legal liabilities

Persida Acosta

Persida Acosta

Dear PAO,
My mother died last month. She left considerable pieces of property. My brothers and I are discussing how what she left us would be divided among us. I, however, think it will take some time before we come up with an agreement. Is there anything we have to do in the meantime?

Dear Clarisse,
I commend you and your siblings for making an effort to settle the estate of your mother among yourselves. This may save you time and expenses, which are usually the price for litigious lawsuits, as well as preserve your harmonious relationship with each other. Thus, I highly advise you to maintain your communication with your brothers and discuss the matter among yourselves. Nonetheless, there are legal requirements you have to fulfill while your discussion is ongoing in order to prevent incurring legal liabilities. This includes filing of notice of death and estate tax return.

Succession has many legal aspects, one of which concerns estate tax. Estate tax is a tax levied, assessed, collected and paid upon the transfer of the net estate of every decedent, whether resident or non-resident of the Philippines (Sec. 84, National Internal Revenue Code). It is an imposition on the right of a decedent to transfer his property to his heirs. Under our law on estate tax, when a person dies, the executor, administrator or any of the legal heirs is required to file a notice of death to inform the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) of the opening of succession. Such notice must be filed within two months after the decedent’s death or within a like period after the executor or administrator qualifies in case of judicial settlement of estate. It is required in all cases where the gross value of the estate exceeds P20,000 (Sec. 89, National Internal Revenue Code).

In addition to the notice of death, the law also requires the executor, the administrator or any of the legal heirs to accomplish and file an estate tax return, which sets forth the gross value of the estate, allowable deductions and other relevant information necessary to determine the tax due, together with the necessary supporting documents. It must be filed within six months from the decedent’s death but may be extended by the BIR for up to 30 days in meritorious cases. The return should be filed with an authorized agent bank, or Revenue District Officer, Collection Officer or duly authorized Treasurer of the city or municipality in which the decedent was domiciled at the time of his death or if there be no legal residence in the Philippines, with the Office of the Commissioner. The filing of a return is required in case the gross value of the estate exceeds P200,000 or where the estate consists registered or registrable property such as real property, motor vehicle, shares of stock or other similar property for which a clearance from the BIR is required for the transfer of ownership (Sec. 90, National Internal Revenue Code).

The return is generally accompanied by payment of the tax due. The time for payment, however, may be deferred or extended for up to five years, in case of judicial settlement of estate, or two years in case of extra-judicial settlement if the BIR finds that the payment on the due date would impose undue hardship upon the estate or any of the heirs (Sec. 91, National Internal Revenue Code).

Considering that your mother died last month, I advise you to file a notice of death within the month to ensure a timely compliance with the requirement of the law. Moreover, because the estate of your mother consists considerable pieces of property, it is highly probable that an estate tax return is required. Make sure to file the return within six (6) months from the death of your mother in order to avoid incurring tax liabilities, as well as penalties and interests.

We hope we were able to sufficiently address your concern. Please bear in mind that this opinion is based on the facts you presented and our appreciation of the same. Our opinion may vary if 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


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