Discretionary

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 Eddie and Gemma.

Eddie and Gemma had been legally married and living together for so many years. Eventually, Eddie died without leaving any will. He was survived by Gemma and their children – Carrie, who claimed to be a legitimate child; Nora, who was incontestably a legitimate child. Also claiming to be an illegitimate son was Jun, who filed a petition for the settlement of the intestate estate of Eddie. Gemma and Carrie, however, opposed said petition and eventually Carrie was appointed as Administratrix of the intestate estate as the next of kin. Nora was left out as she was domiciled in the United States and was unaware of the settlement proceedings.

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

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

But on motion of Jun, the illegitimate son of Eddie, Fred was removed and Nora was restored to the position she took from Carrie because Fred failed to substantially perform his duties as administrator and Nora is the most suitable person to replace him. The RTC also issued the same ruling in the probate of Gemma’s will. Thus Nora replaced both Fred and Carrie as special administrator of the undivided estate of Eddie and Gemma. This ruling was affirmed by the 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.

Nora’s American citizenship is not an obstacle to her appointment as special administrator of Eddie and Gemma’s estate. Rule 78 Section 1 requires residency in the Philippines, not Filipino citizenship. In this case Nora has been residing in the Philippines after her mother Gemma died. While there are instances that she goes to the US, she always immediately returns to the country. 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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