If I were to be granted one wish with the Holy Pope having blessed this land, it would be that greed in the hearts of many of our people be taken away. That will mean real progress as funds intended for development will go where they should. Even our own President’s mantra which is, “walang mahirap kung walang corrupt” (There is no poverty where there is no corruption), takes this postulate.
But erasing greed in people’s hearts will not just lift this nation, it will make families happier and more harmonious, too. In my practice of law, I have witnessed way too many families divided and broken by the estate left by their parents. This has made me favor Warren Buffet’s insightful belief about why it is not wise to leave too much. Buffet, once the richest man in the world and still among the richest today, is known to be giving away his billions of dollars to charity. He provides enough for his children so that they can do anything but not too much such that they will do nothing. In other words, he provides them with the means to lead productive and comfortable lives but not too much so they will work and achieve success on their own.
I have seen siblings who used to work in harmony together with their parents who established business empires. When they had each gotten married, begun to raise families of their own, and their parents had died, things headed for destruction. The surviving children of one family I know, for example, got embroiled in legal suits with each other for many years when their parents passed away. It all started when two of them sued the three others who were the ones running their family corporation. The cases filed were petty, clearly just meant to harass the three others, to give in to their demand that more shares in the company be given to them. You see, they thought that the houses given to the two of them during the lifetime of their parents were less in value than those given to the three elder ones. In reaction, what the three others did was to look for grounds to file cases against the two. For years, their business suffered. When they finally got tired of having their horns locked, the three elder ones sold out their shares in the family business to the two others, even at a loss, just to move on. Their court battles ended but their relationship as a family and as siblings never went back to how it used to be.
A worse case I know involves a son who has been making life miserable for his own mother since his father’s death. The mother, now in an advanced age and ailing, but who used to be prominent in social circles, had to leave the house she built and loved. Before she left, she tried to confine herself to her bedroom and avoided going out because she could not stand the ill treatment by her own son and his wife. She was the one who provided him with a good education, a lifestyle of luxury and an office of his own. She allowed him to live in the ancestral home while her other married children had to live separately. As if treating her with disrespect and rudeness were not enough, the son also filed baseless legal suits against her, forcing her to move out. Even while his mother still lives the last days of her life, he has been making demands that the estate built by her and her husband be now distributed to them as heirs.
This brings me to a thought which was inspired by a student of mine in law school. This student made a paper for her thesis class that is worth reading by our lawmakers. She said legislators should re-think and, perhaps, amend, our law on succession. Our civil law was adopted from the 1889 Civil Code of Spain. It says that when a person dies without leaving a will, his estate will go to his children, with the surviving spouse being given a share equal to that of a legitimate child’s. If there is no child, his estate will pass on to his parents (if still alive) with his surviving spouse having a share. Now, if a person executes a last will and testament, he has to set aside what is called the legitime or that portion in a deceased person’s estate reserved by law for forced or compulsory heirs. The testator is not given the right to give away everything to anyone he well pleases. The testator can only give away by way of will that free portion in the inheritance, the size of which depends on how many heirs there are, especially illegitimate children, because that is where their shares are taken from.
My student’s hypothesis is that there should be no reserved portion in a person’s estate if he chooses to make a will because his last will and testament will be his voice after his death. It is my student’s theory that when a person makes a will it means he wants to leave his estate to people or institutions of his choice. I quite agree with this hypothesis because in a person’s lifetime, he is free to do as he pleases with his money and assets. He can squander them, donate them to strangers, give assets in advance to a child or enjoy retirement as he desires. No one can question how he spends his assets and money while he lives. When he makes a will, it will be him expressing how he wants his estate distributed. His will shall then be his voice. So, why restrict his choices and box him into a limited free portion? True, one can disinherit unworthy heirs but the grounds for disinheritance are few and restrictive.
It makes sense indeed that our centuries-old law on succession be reviewed. Perhaps it will also make children strive more to build their lives rather than waiting to receive money unearned.
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