Saturday, July 2, 2011

Who Are The Compulsory Heirs?

Before I begin to discuss who are the compulsory heirs, I must emphasize that Philippine law on testate and intestate succession only becomes relevant to a foreigner when 1) the laws of his/her country states that the law where he/she is domiciled shall govern; and 2) he/she is domiciled in the Philippines at the time of death.

Otherwise, all this discussion is rather unimportant to you and will concern only us Filipinos.

First, let us distinguish between what is testate and intestate succession and what is its effect.  A succession is testate when there is a will, consequently, when there is no will it is called intestate succession.  Compulsory heirs cannot be denied, whether the succession is testate or intestate, and even their designated legitime (share) under the law cannot be changed, notwithstanding the type of succession.

Who are the compulsory heirs by order of preference:

1) Children (legitimate and illegitimate; adopted children are treated as legitimate heirs);
2) Spouse (legal spouse only);
3) Parents (whether adoptive or not);
4) collateral relatives (brothers/sisters/cousins) only in the absence of above.

The presence of  a spouse AND child/children, will result in the exclusion of parents.
The presence of parents in the absence of a child/children, will result in the exclusion of collateral relatives.

Let me emphasize, only the free disposable portion may be disposed of by will.  Compulsory heirs cannot be deprived of their legal right to their legitime, no matter how much the testator dislikes them.  Only by means of their disinheritance through a will can they be deprived of their legitimes, and only for causes expressly provided for by law.

Let us now discuss the distribution of the estate based on who are the surviving compulsory heirs:
  • Spouse ONLY (without surviving parents or children) - the Spouse shall inherit 1/2 of the estate and the other half the testator may already freely dispose. Article 900 of the Civil Code
  • Spouse and ascendants (without children) - Spouse inherits 1/4 of the estate, and the ascendants (assuming there are two still surviving) shall inherit 1/4 each, 1/4 shall remain as free disposable portion. Article 893 of the Civil Code 
  • Spouse and legitimate children - Children gets half of the estate and spouse gets 1/4 of the estate; the remaining 1/4 is free disposable portion; if there are two or more legitimate children, the spouse shall inherit equally with the children. Article 892 of the Civil Code 
  • Spouse and only one illegitimate child - Child gets 1/3 and spouse gets 1/3, the remaining 1/3 is the free disposable portion. Article 894 of the Civil Code
  • The legitime of an illegitimate child who is an acknowledged natural child or a natural child by legal fiction is 1/2 the share of a legitimate child. Article 895 of the Civil Code
  • The legitime of an illegitimate child who is neither the above is 4/5 the share of an acknowledged natural child. Article 895 of the Civil Code
It will be a longer story to discuss how to divide the share of collateral relatives.  But rest assured you don't even have to go there if the top three compulsory heirs are still alive.  It is wise then, should you want to give something to your collateral relatives to give them what is left of the free disposable portion after satisfying the above.  If there is no will, the free disposable portion shall be divided among the compulsory heirs based on the above.


  1. My mother bought land and built our house and she died 17 years ago, my sister and I are now more than 18 years old, my father married again and has 1 child. 3 weeks ago my father died. How can we divide his heirs?

  2. Sorry, I wrote heirs instead of inheritance.

  3. Thanks for this post! Detailed and clear. By the way, please visit: NDV Law.

  4. I'm not a citizen of the Philippines. I'm married to a person who was born in the Philippines, but is not currently a citizen of the Philippines. My spouse owns real estate within the boundaries set aside for native born non-Filipino citizens. We have no children, my spouses parents are deceased.

    My interpretation of what you have written leads me to believe that, should I outlive my spouse it matters not if things are testate or intestate and that 100% of the real property left behind gravitates to my ownership. Are we in synch?

    1. Yes. But only if you are a Filipino. If you are not, the property will only be sold to satisfy your legitime.