• Priest who gives last rites can’t inherit from estate

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    Persida Acosta

    Persida Acosta

    Dear PAO,
    My unmarried and childless uncle died in his hospital bed after a long battle with cancer. He was able to make his last will just before his death. In fact, a priest already gave him his last rites as we were all certain of his death. Now that he has passed away, we realized that he had assigned a substantial portion of his property to the diocese of the priest who gave him his last rites.

    The administrator of my uncle’s estate is now questioning this substantial donation since it is allegedly prohibited and illegal to donate to the diocese of the priest who last attended to him. Is there any basis for this prohibition even if this was expressly willed by my uncle in his last will?                

    Jose

    Dear Jose,
    It is important to note that while the law gives the testator, through his last will and testament, a general discretion to name who will inherit from his estate, the law still provides that there are certain individuals who cannot succeed from the testator based on the nature of their relationship with him.

    Article 1027 of the Civil Code of the Philippines enumerates the following who are incapable of succeeding from a testator:

    “(1) The priest who heard the confession of the testator during his last illness, or the minister of the gospel who extended spiritual aid to him during the same period;

    (2) The relatives of such priest or minister of the gospel within the fourth degree, the church, order, chapter, community, organization, or institution to which such priest or minister may belong;

    Xxx” (Emphasis supplied)

    Based on the cited provision, the nature of the relationship of the priest who gave spiritual ministration to the testator at the time of his last illness cannot succeed from the testator’s last will that was executed during and/or after the said spiritual ministration. It is opined that the rationale of the law in imposing such disqualification is to prevent any possible abuse of moral or spiritual ascendancy for purposes of testamentary benefits (Ruben F. Balane, Jottings and Jurisprudence in Civil Law Succession, 2006).

    Moreover, the law provides that it is not only the priest who is disqualified from succeeding from the testator whom he had given spiritual ministration. The church itself, along with the order, chapter, community and organization to which such priest or minister may belong, is also included in list of those who cannot succeed from a testator.

    As such, the diocese where the priest belongs to is included in the list of those who are prohibited from succeeding from the testator’s last will since it can be considered a part of the church community or chapter where the priest belongs.

    Because of the express provision of the law on those who cannot succeed from a testator, the administrator of your uncle is correct in claiming that the diocese of the priest who attended to your uncle in his illness before his death may not legally qualify to inherit from your uncle, notwithstanding the fact that it was included in your uncle’s last will and testament.

    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.

    Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to dearpao@manilatimes.net

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