Real Pinoy Legal Horror Stories (No. 1)

Bobby, a successful iridologist and businessman, was married to Esperanza and they had a daughter named Queenie. They owned the house and lot they lived in located at White Plains, Quezon City currently valued at least P20,000,000.00. However, after a few years, Esperanza died. Bobby then allegedly married Dora who had children from a previous marriage named Luwalhati and Kiko. However, it was only Luwalhati who lived with Bobby and Dora in the house in White Plains. After several years, Bobby died leaving behind Dora and Luwalhati who continued living in their house in Quezon City. Luwalhati became a spinster who then adopted two children, one boy and one girl. The girl’s name was Tina and the boy’s name was Allan.

Afterwards, Dora died leaving the house to Luwalhati and her two adopted children. Unfortunately, after a few years, Luwalhati also died due to cancer leaving Tina and Allan to the care of her best friend, Suzy. During this time, Queenie has already been living in the United States with her family. When Queenie found out about the death of Luwalhati, she became concerned about their ancestral house as she is the only living legitimate child of the deceased patriarch Bobby.

Now the question is: To whom does the house and lot go? Originally, the house and lot in Quezon City was under the name of Bobby who allegedly then donated an undivided share thereof to Dora and Luwalhati, thus including their names in the Transfer Certificate of Title. However, upon the death of Luwalhati, it was discovered that the property is now under the name of Dora and Luwalhati. Now, Suzy, being the one who took care of Luwalhati during her battle with cancer, claimed that she has in her possession the Last Will and Testament of the latter and that she was named executor therein. The problem is, she refused and continues to refuse producing the same for the other property claimants to see. On the other hand, Kiko does not believe that his sister wrote and executed such a will and also claims that he is a legal intestate heir of Luwalhati because Allan and Tina were not legally adopted by her. However, Queenie, on the contrary, claims that Luwalhati was never validly adopted by her father Bobby and that he and Dora were not even married although there was a time that the TCT of the subject property was named under Booby “married to” Dora. Hence, she is likewise claiming the subject property as a primary compulsory heir of her father Bobby and her mother Esperanza. To make things more complicated, the Registry of Deeds of Quezon City could not find any copy of the transfer documents concerning the house and lot putting into question the validity of the subsequent transfers from Bobby to Dora and Luwalhati. It seems like somewhere along the way, an irregularity was committed regarding the transfers of ownership of the subject property.

Presently, it is still unclear about what truly transpired and how the title to the subject property was transferred from Bobby to Dora and Luwalhati. But one thing is clear: All of these problems could have been avoided if only Bobby came up with a sound estate plan including a Last Will and Testament.

Estate Planning for Every Juan

“A good person leaves an inheritance for their children’s children, but a sinner’s wealth is stored up for the righteous.” (Proverbs 13:22)

Both as a lawyer and a pastor, I have come across several people who are having problems with disposing certain properties which are still under the name of their long-deceased relative. The relative is usually a parent, a grandparent, an uncle, an aunt, or even a sibling. In other cases, I also encounter siblings quarrelling amongst each other or even with their surviving parent. Such situations are truly heartbreaking to say the least. These kinds of problems usually arise due to the failure of the surviving relatives, who are more often than not the legal heirs, to pay the necessary estate tax and settle the estate of the decedent. However, are the heirs the only ones to blame? Definitely not. The decedent, while living, likewise has a part, if not more parts, to play in ensuring that his descendants or heirs do not have a difficult time in acquiring the inheritance he had left for them to enjoy. Now, this is where sound estate planning comes in.

Before going any further, it is imperative that we first clarify some key terms because most people are confused between “estate” and “real estate.” On the one hand, an “estate” is the accumulation of all the property, real or personal, tangible or intangible, wherever situated, of a person at the time of his death (Sec. 85, National Internal Revenue Code). On the other hand, “real estate” is property consisting of land and anything permanently fixed to it, including buildings, trees, sheds and other items attached to the structure (Art. 415, Civil Code of the Philippines). Hence, from the above definitions, we can infer that “real estate tax” is different from “estate tax.”

Contrary to what most people think, estate planning is not only for the rich and famous. For as long as you own something, anything, you have an estate! Most of the time, family members don’t even fight among themselves over a piece of expensive property but over those which have sentimental value such as trinkets, paintings, jewelry, books, etc. As a famous saying goes: “There are only two certain things in life, death and taxes.” Of course, in reality, there are more than those two. Still, for some people, when they hear of estate planning, what comes to mind is the Last Will and Testament. Although indispensable thereto, the latter is merely one of the tools used in estate planning. Simply put, Estate Planning is basically transferring your properties to your heirs in the best way possible while avoiding unnecessary costs, especially on taxes.

It is never too early to start planning your estate. Death comes like a thief in the night, to borrow Jesus’ words. Therefore, in order to avoid the hassles and problems that you may leave your loved ones as illustrated by the true to life cases given above, show them that you care by planning ahead. Remember, failing to plan is planning to fail! In the following weeks, I will be sharing more real life horror stories of people who failed to plan their estates resulting in heart-wrenching family feuds or squabbles. So what are you waiting for? Consult your lawyer, accountant or financial planner today!