8 rules in interpreting wills

Here are eight (8) basic rules in interpreting wills.

[1] Article 788. If a testamentary disposition admits of different interpretations, in case of doubt, that interpretation by which the disposition is to be operative shall be preferred.

The intention of the testator is to dispose of his property. This is the spirit of a will and it must be the guiding star in interpreting provisions susceptible of different interpretations.

[2] Article 791. The words of a will are to receive an interpretation which will give to every expression some effect, rather than one which will render any of the expressions inoperative; xxx.

This is the same rule in legal hermeneutics. An interpretation which kills a part or parts of the will must be avoided.

[3] Of two modes of interpreting a will, that is to be preferred which will prevent intestacy. (Also Article 791)

Intestacy must be avoided because the intention of the testator must be respected.

[4] Article 790. The words of a will are to be taken in their ordinary and grammatical sense, unless a clear intention to use them in another sense can be gathered, and that other can be ascertained.

The rule is that the testator is presumed to have written his will not in a technical language but in a language commonly understood. However, if there is clear intention to use technical terms, the sense in which he intended to convey thoughts must be ascertained and applied.
[5] Technical words in a will are to be taken in their technical sense, unless the context clearly indicates a contrary intention, or unless it satisfactorily appears that the will was drawn solely by the testator, and that he was unacquainted with such technical sense. (Also Article 790)

Technical words have technical meanings. If it can be proved that the testator could not possibly be acquainted with such technical words in their technical sense, such technical words will be given ordinary meaning.

[6] Article 792. The invalidity of one of several dispositions contained in a will does not result in the invalidity of the other dispositions, unless it is to be presumed that the testator would not have made such other dispositions if the first invalid disposition had not been made.

Other provisions of the will shall not be affected by the invalidity of one or some other provisions. This is similar to a separability clause (also called severability clause) in statutes. However, provisions which are dependent against each other or one another shall be affected accordingly.

[7] Article 794. Every devise or legacy shall cover all the interest which the testator could device or bequeath in the property disposed of, unless it clearly appears from the will that he intended to convey a less interest.

[8] Article 789. When there is an imperfect description, or when no person or property exactly answers the description, mistakes and omissions must be corrected, if the error appears from the context of the will or from extrinsic evidence, excluding the oral declarations of the testator as to his intention; and when an uncertainty arises upon the face of the will, as to the application of any of its provisions, the testator's intention is to be ascertained from the words of the will, taking into consideration the circumstances under which it was made, excluding such oral declarations. (All from the Civil Code of the Philippines)