Residency, not citizenship

A LAW EACH DAY (KEEPS TROUBLE AWAY) - Jose C. Sison - The Philippine Star

Persons may die with or without a last will and testament (will). If he/she dies without a will, his/her intestate estate will be settled upon filing a petition in court which will appoint an administrator of the intestate estate. If he/she dies with a will, his/her testate estate will be settled upon filing of a petition in court which will approve the will and designate a named executor; if no executor is named in the will, the court will appoint a special administrator of the testate estate.

Who can be appointed administrator or executor of the intestate or testate estate? Can a non-Filipino citizen be appointed to such a position? This is the main question answered in this case of the spouses Manny and Minda.

Manny and Minda had been legally married and living together for so many years.  Eventually, Manny died without leaving any will. He was survived by Minda and their children – Connie, who claimed to be a legitimate child; Nina, who was incontestably a legitimate child. Claiming to be an illegitimate son was Jimmy, who filed a petition for the settlement of the intestate estate of Manny.

Minda and Connie, however, opposed said petition and eventually Connie was appointed as administrator of the intestate estate as the next of kin. Nina was left out as she was domiciled in the United States and was unaware of the settlement proceedings.

About nine years after Manny’s death, Minda also died, leaving a will where she named Eddie, a loyal and most trusted employee who was treated like a son, as executor. Eddie then filed a petition for the probate of Minda’s will and for issuance of letters testamentary to himself. This petition was opposed by Nina, who sought the disallowance of the will and her appointment as administrator.

A year later, in the intestate estate proceedings of Manny, Connie was removed as administrator and was replaced by Nina. Through the Motion for Reconsideration of Connie, the court removed Nina and appointed Eddie in her place. The Regional Trial Court (RTC) said that Nina cannot be administrator as she is an American citizen and a non-resident of the Philippines, while Eddie is the most suited to administer the estate of Manny because he has been considered as a protégé of Manny and holds the shares of Manny in a broadcasting corporation which is part of Manny’s estate.

But on motion of Jimmy, the illegitimate son of Manny, Eddie was removed and Nina was restored to the position she took from Connie because Eddie failed to substantially perform his duties as administrator and Nina is the most suitable person to replace him.

The RTC also issued the same ruling in the probate of Minda’s Will. Thus, Nina replaced both Eddie and Connie as special administrator of the undivided estate of Manny and Minda. This ruling was affirmed by the Court of Appeals (CA). Was the RTC and the CA, correct?

The Supreme Court (SC) said yes. A special administrator is a special representative of the deceased appointed by the court to care for and preserve the estate until the appointment of the regular executor or administrator. He or she is considered an officer of the court who is in charge of the estate, not a representative or agent of the parties. The appointment of a special administrator rests on the sound discretion of the probate court. As long as the discretion is exercised without grave abuse, and is based on reason, equity, justice and legal principles, interference by the higher courts is unwarranted.

Hence, he is subject to the probate court’s supervision and control and is expected to work for the best interests of the entire estate, particularly towards its smooth administration and earliest settlement.

The rules in the selection or removal of regular administrators do not apply to special administrators. In appointing a special administrator, the probate court is not limited to the grounds for incompetence laid down in Rule 78, Section 1 and the order of preference provided in Rule 78, Section 6 pertinent to regular administrators. The appointment of a special administrator rests on the sound discretion of the probate court. The probate court may appoint or remove special administrators based on grounds other than those enumerated in the Rules at its discretion, such that the need to first pass upon and resolve the issues of fitness or unfitness and the application of the order of preference under Section 6 Rule 78, as would be proper in the case of a regular administrator, do not apply. As long as the discretion is exercised without grave abuse and is based on reason, equity, justice and legal principles, interference by higher courts is unwarranted. 

Nina’s American citizenship is not an obstacle to her appointment as special administrator of Manny and Minda’s estate. Rule 78 Section 1 requires residency in the Philippines, not Filipino citizenship. In this case, Nina has been residing in the Philippines after her mother Minda died. Clearly, regardless of her citizenship, she can effectively and reasonably discharge her duties as a special administrator. (This is the ruling in the matter of the Petition for the Approval of the Will of the Gloria Vda.de Cea, Gozum vs.Pappas. G.R. 197147, Feb. 3, 2021).

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