G.R. No. L-40804 – 81 SCRA 393 – 171 Phil. 354 – Civil Law – Succession – Prevarication – Lawyer’s Testimony vs Witness’ Testimony
The late Eugenia Danila left a will wherein she instituted among others Adelaida Nista as one of the instituted heirs. Nista petitioned before the court to admit the will to probate. The petition was opposed by Buenaventura Guerra and Marcelina Guerra. The two oppositors claimed that they were the legally adopted children of Danila; that the said will sought to be probated by Nista was obtained through fraud.
The two parties talked and they came up with a compromise agreement which essentially stated that Nista is admitting the invalidity of the will. The compromise agreement was approved by the trial court BUT Rosario de Ramos et al – the other instituted heirs and devisees – intervened. The trial court allowed the intervention and set aside the compromise agreement. Rosario de Ramos et al alleged that the Guerras repudiated their shares when they abandoned Danila and committed acts of ingratitude against her.
Eventually, the probate court admitted the will to probate. The decision was appealed by the Guerras. The Court of Appeals reversed the decision of the probate court. The CA ruled that there was a failure to prove that Danila was in the presence of the instrumental witnesses when she signed the will – this was because two of the instrumental witnesses (Sarmiento and Paz) testified in court that the will was already signed by Danila when they affixed their signatures.
HOWEVER, Atty. Ricardo Barcenas, the Notary Public before whom the will was executed and who assisted in the execution, vehemently assailed the testimony of the two witnesses. He affirmed Danila and the three instrumental witnesses were in each other’s presence when the will was signed by them. Another lawyer, who was also present during the execution of the will, corroborated the testimony of Atty. Barcenas.
ISSUE: Whether or not the Court of Appeals is correct in not allowing the will to probate.
HELD: No. The attestation clause was signed by the instrumental witnesses. This serves as their admissions of the due execution of the will and thus preventing them from prevaricating later on by testifying against the will’s due execution.
The execution of the same was evidently supervised by Atty. Ricardo Barcenas and before whom the deeds were also acknowledged. The solemnity surrounding the execution of a will is attended by some intricacies not usually within the comprehension of an ordinary layman. The object is to close the door against bad faith and fraud, to avoid substitution of the will and testament, and to guarantee their truth and authenticity. There is a presumption in the regularity of the performance of a lawyer with his duty as a notary public. There has been no evidence to show that Barcenas has been remiss in his duty nor were there any allegations of fraud against him. In fact, the authenticity of Danila’s and the witnesses’ signature was never questioned.
The attestation clauses, far from being deficient, were properly signed by the attesting witnesses. Neither is it disputed that these witnesses took turns in signing the will and codicil in the presence of each other and the testatrix. Both instruments were duly acknowledged before a Notary Public who was all the time present during the execution.
Subscribing witnesses may forget or exaggerate what they really know, saw, heard or did; they may be biased and, therefore, tell only half-truths to mislead the court or favor one party to the prejudice of the others. As a rule, if any or all of the subscribing witnesses testify against the due execution of the will, or do not remember having attested to it, or are otherwise of doubtful credibility, the will may, nevertheless, be allowed if the court is satisfied from the testimony of other witnesses and from all the evidence presented that the will was executed and attested in the manner required by law.
In weighing the testimony of the attesting witnesses to a will, the statements of a competent attorney, who has been charged with the responsibility of seeing to the proper execution of the instrument, is entitled to greater weight than the testimony of a person casually called to participate in the act, supposing of course that no motive is revealed that should induce the attorney to prevaricate. The reason is that the mind of the attorney being conversant of the instrument, is more likely to become fixed on details, and he is more likely than other persons to retain those incidents in his memory.