The Firm
Our Lawyers
Cases and Rulings
Estate Planning Tools
Contact Us

GR NO. 187056
SEPTEMBER 20, 2010


Spouses G executed a "Donation Mortis Causa" the terms of which are as follows:


It is our will that this Donation Mortis Causa shall be irrevocable and shall be respected by the surviving spouse.

It is our will that J and E will continue to occupy the portions now occupied by them.

It is further our will that this DONATION MORTIS CAUSA shall not in any way affect any other distribution of other properties belonging to any of us donors whether testate or intestate and where ever situated.

It is our further will that any one surviving spouse reserves the right, ownership, possession and administration of this property herein donated and accepted and this Disposition and Donation shall be operative and effective upon the death of the DONORS.


Whether the disposition of the property is a donation mortis causa (effective upon death), as in fact designated, or actually a donation inter vivos (effective during the lifetime of the Donors)?



That the document in question in this case was captioned "Donation Mortis Causa" is not controlling. This Court has held that, if a donation by its terms is inter vivos, this character is not altered by the fact that the donor styles it mortis causa.

In Austria-Magat v. Court of Appeals, the Court held that "irrevocability" is a quality absolutely incompatible with the idea of conveyances mortis causa, where "revocability" is precisely the essence of the act. A donation mortis causa has the following characteristics:

1. It conveys no title or ownership to the transferee before the death of the transferor; or, what amounts to the same thing, that the transferor should retain the ownership (full or naked) and control of the property while alive;

2. That before his death, the transfer should be revocable by the transferor at will, ad nutum; but revocability may be provided for indirectly by means of a reserved power in the donor to dispose of the properties conveyed; and

3. That the transfer should be void if the transferor should survive the transferee.

The Court thus said in Austria-Magat that the express "irrevocability" of the donation is the "distinctive standard that identifies the document as a donation inter vivos." Here, the donors plainly said that it is "our will that this Donation Mortis Causa shall be irrevocable and shall be respected by the surviving spouse." The intent to make the donation irrevocable becomes even clearer by the proviso that a surviving donor shall respect the irrevocability of the donation. Consequently, the donation was in reality a donation inter vivos.

The donors in this case of course reserved the "right, ownership, possession, and administration of the property" and made the donation operative upon their death. But this Court has consistently held that such reservation (reddendum) in the context of an irrevocable donation simply means that the donors parted with their naked title, maintaining only beneficial ownership of the donated property while they lived.

Notably, the three donees signed their acceptance of the donation, which acceptance the deed required.  This Court has held that an acceptance clause indicates that the donation is inter vivos, since acceptance is a requirement only for such kind of donations. Donations mortis causa, being in the form of a will, need not be accepted by the donee during the donor's lifetime.

Finally, as Justice J. B. L. Reyes said in Puig v. Peñaflorida, in case of doubt, the conveyance should be deemed a donation inter vivos rather than mortis causa, in order to avoid uncertainty as to the ownership of the property subject of the deed.


GR NO. 154942
AUGUST 16, 2005


R, petitioner, and C, respondent, are half-blood siblings both asserting their claim over a lot  registered in the name of their father, G.  He died intestate in 1986.

During his lifetime, specifically in 1978 G donated the lot to R which the latter accepted. The deed of donation was annotated on G's title.

In 1981, G again sold the lot also to R as per a Deed of Absolute Sale.

In that same year, by virtue of the annotated deed of donation, the title  under  G's name was cancelled and a new one was issued by the Registry of Deeds of Manila in R's name.

In 1991, respondent C filed a complaint for partition and reconveyance against R. She alleged that during his lifetime, G denied having sold the lot to R; that she learned of the donation in 1978; and that the donation is inofficious as she was deprived of her legitime.

In his answer, R countered that G's suit is barred by prescription considering that she is aware that he has been in possession of the lot as owner for more than ten (10) years; and that the lot was sold to him by his father, hence, C can no longer claim her legitime.

The trial court found that the Deed of Absolute Sale was not signed by the parties nor was it registered in the Registry of Deeds. Thus, it is not a valid contract.  What is valid is the deed of donation as it was duly executed by the parties and registered.

The trial court then held that since G did not own any other property, the donation to R is inofficious because it impaired C's legitime.


I.  Was the donation inofficious?

II. Is the action barred by prescription?


I. Whether the donation is inofficious.

YES. It bears reiterating that under Article 752 of the Civil Code, the donation is inofficoius if it exceeds this limitation no person may give or receive, by way of donation, more than he may give or receive by will. In Imperial vs. Court of Appeals, we held that inofficiousness may arise only upon the death of the donor as the value of donation may then be contrasted with the net value of the estate of the donor deceased.

At this point, we emphasize that as found by the trial court, G did not sell the lot to R. He donated it. The trial court also found that the donation is inofficious as it impairs C's legitime; that at the time of G's death, he left no property other than the lot now in controversy he donated to R; and that the deceased made no reservation for the legitime of C, his daughter and compulsory heir.

Pursuant to Article 752 earlier cited, G could not donate more than he may give by will. Clearly, by donating the entire lot to R, we agree with both lower courts that G's donation is inofficious as it deprives C of her legitime, which, under Article 888 of the Civil Code, consists of one-half (1/2) of the hereditary estate of the father and the mother. Since the parents of both parties are already dead, they will inherit the entire lot, each being entitled to one-half (1/2) thereof.

II. Whether C's suit is barred by prescription.

NO. In Imperial vs. Court of Appeals, we held that donations, the reduction of which hinges upon the allegation of impairment of legitime (as in this case), are not controlled by a particular prescriptive period, for which reason, we must resort to the ordinary rules of prescription. Under Article 1144 of the Civil Code, actions upon an obligation created by law must be brought within ten years from the time the right of action accrues. Thus, the ten-year prescriptive period applies to the obligation to reduce inofficious donations, required under Article 771 of the Civil Code, to the extent that they impair the legitime of compulsory heirs.

From when shall the ten-year period be reckoned? In Mateo vs. Lagua, involving the reduction, for inofficiousness, of a donation propter nuptias, we held that the cause of action to enforce a legitime accrues upon the death of the donor-decedent. Clearly so, since it is only then that the net estate may be ascertained and on which basis, the legitimes may be determined.

Here, G died in 1986. Consequently, C had until 1996 within which to file the action. Records show that she filed her suit in 1992, well within the prescriptive period.




The FirmServicesOur LawyersArticlesLibraryCases and RulingsEstate Planning ToolsCareersEventsGalleryContact UsDisclaimer