Ancheta vs. Guersey-Dalaygon (GR No. 139868; June 8, 2006)

American citizens, spouses Audrey O’Neill and W. Richard Guersey, were residents in the Philippines for 30 years.  They have an adopted daughter, Kyle Guersey Hill (Kyle). Audrey died in 1979 leaving a will wherein she bequeathed her entire estate to Richard consisting of her conjugal share in real estate in Forbes Park, a bank account, cash balance and shares of stock in A/G Interiors.

Two years later, Richard married Candelaria Guersey-Dalaygon. Four years thereafter, Richard died and left a will wherein he bequeathed his entire estate to Candelaria, except for his shares in A/G, which he left to his adopted daughter. Audrey’s will was admitted to probate in CFI Rizal. Inventory was taken on their conjugal properties. Ancheta, as the administrator, filed for a partition of the first wife’s estate. The will was also admitted in a court in her native land (Maryland).

Petitioner, as ancillary administrator in the court where Audrey’s will was admitted to probate, filed a motion to declare Richard and Kyle as heirs of Audrey and a project of partition of Audrey’s estate. The motion and project of partition were granted. Meanwhile, the ancillary administrator with regards to Richard’s will also filed a project of partition, leaving 2/5 of Richard’s undivided interest in the Forbes property was allocated to respondent Candelaria, while 3/5 thereof was allocated to their three children. Respondent opposed on the ground that under the law of the State of Maryland, where Richard was a native of, a legacy passes to the legatee the entire interest of the testator in the property subject to the legacy.

1) Whether or not the properties in issue should be governed by the law where the property is situated
2) Whether or not the decree of distribution may still be annulled.

1) Yes, properties in issue should be governed by the law where the property is situated. However, since the first wife is a foreign national, the intrinsic validity of her will is governed by her national law. The national law of the person who made the will shall regulate whose succession is in consideration whatever the nature of the property and regardless of the country where the property maybe found (Art 16 CC). The first wife’s properties may be found in the Philippines, however the successional rights over those properties are governed by the national law of the testator.

2) A decree of distribution of the estate of a deceased person vests the title to the land of the estate in the distributees, which, if erroneous may be corrected by a timely appeal. Once it becomes final, its binding effect is like any other judgment in rem.

However, in exceptional cases, a final decree of distribution of the estate may be set aside for lack of jurisdiction or fraud. Further, in Ramon vs. Ortuzar, the Court ruled that a party interested in a probate proceeding may have a final liquidation set aside when he is left out by reason of circumstances beyond his control or through mistake or inadvertence not imputable to negligence.

Petitioner’s failure to proficiently manage the distribution of Audrey’s estate according to the terms of her will and as dictated by the applicable law amounted to extrinsic fraud.

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