De la Cerna v. Potot

G.R. No. L-20234, 23 December 1964, 12 SCRA 576

FACTS:

On May 19, 1939, Spouses Bernabe de la Serna and Gervasia Rebaca, executed a joint last will and testament where they willed that their 2 parcels of land together with all improvements thereon be given to Manuela Rebaca, their niece, whom they have nutured since childhood and that while each of the testators is yet living, she will continue to enjoy the fruits of the two lands.

Bernabe dela Serna died on August 30, 1939, and the aforesaid will was submitted to probate by said Gervasia and Manuela before the Court of First Instance of Cebu. By order of Oct. 31, 1939, the Court admitted for probate the said will but only for the part of Bernabe.

When Gervasia died, another petition for probate was instituted by Manuela, but because she and her attorney failed to appear in court, the petition was dismissed. The Court of First Instance ordered the petition heard and declared the testament null and void, for being executed contrary to the prohibition of joint wills in the Civil Code (Art. 669, Civil Code of 1889 and Art. 818, Civil Code of the Philippines); but on appeal by the testamentary heir, the Court of Appeals reversed, on the ground that the decree of probate in 1939 was issued by a court of probate jurisdiction and conclusive on the due execution of the testament.

ISSUE:

W/N the will may be probated.

HELD:

The Supreme Court affirmed the CA decision and held that once a decree of probate becomes final in accordance with the rules of procedure, it is res judicata. Admittedly the probate of the will in 1939 was erroneous, however, because it was probated by a court of competent jurisdiction it has conclusive effect and a final judgment rendered on a petition for the probate of a will is binding upon the whole world. There was an error on the court but the decree has now become final.

Nevertheless, the probate in 1939 only affected the share of Bernabe and could not include the disposition of the share of his wife which was still alive then, her properties were still not within the jurisdiction of the court. Hence, joint will being prohibited by law, the validity of the will with respect to her, must be on her death, be re-examined and adjudicated de novo — since a joint will is considered a separate will of each testator.

The undivided interest of the wife should pass upon her death to her intestate heirs and not to the testamentary heir. Thus as to the disposition of the wife, the will cannot be given effect.

*Case digest by Karen S. Tindugan, LLB-IV, Andres Bonifacio College Law School, SY 2018-2019

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