CASE DIGEST: Del Rosario vs. Ferrer

G.R. No. 187056: September 20, 2010




On August 27, 1968, the spouses Leopoldo and Guadalupe Gonzales executed a document entitled "Donation Mortis Causa" in favor of their two children, Asuncion and Emiliano, and their granddaughter, Jarabini (daughter of their predeceased son, Zoilo) covering the spouses' 126-square meter lot and the house on it in Pandacan, Manila in equal shares.

Although denominated as a donation mortis causa, which in law is the equivalent of a will, the deed had no attestation clause and was witnessed by only two persons. The named donees, however, signified their acceptance of the donation on the face of the document.

Guadalupe, the donor wife, died in September 1968. A few months later or on December 19, 1968, Leopoldo, the donor husband, executed a deed of assignment of his rights and interests in subject property to their daughter Asuncion. Leopoldo died in June 1972.

In 1998, Jarabini filed a "petition for the probate of the August 27, 1968 deed of donation mortis causa" before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Manila. Asuncion opposed the petition, invoking his father Leopoldo's assignment of his rights and interests in the property to her.

After trial, the RTC rendered a decision finding that the donation was in fact one made inter vivos, the donors' intention being to transfer title over the property to the donees during the donors' lifetime, given its irrevocability. Consequently, said the RTC, Leopoldo's subsequent assignment of his rights and interest in the property was void since he had nothing to assign. The RTC thus directed the registration of the property in the name of the donees in equal shares.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals (CA) reversed the decision of the RTC. The CA held that Jarabini cannot, through her petition for the probate of the deed of donation mortis causa, collaterally attack Leopoldo's deed of assignment in Asuncion's favor. CA also held that the donation, being one given mortis causa, did not comply with the requirements of a notarial will, rendering the same void.

ISSUE: Whether or not the spouses Leopoldo and Guadalupe's donation to Asuncion, Emiliano, and Jarabini was a donation mortis causa, as it was denominated, or in fact a donation inter vivos.

CIVIL LAW: "Irrevocability" is a quality absolutely incompatible with the idea of conveyances mortis causa, where "revocability" is precisely the essence of the act


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 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. Penaflorida, 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.