Donation Inter Vivos vs. Mortis Causa

Most of us dream of receiving property or wealth without having worked for it. This Christmas season, that expectation is greater. It is the time for giving and and of course joyful receiving. Under our civil law, donations are not just simple giving. They have legal consequences and are classified in a certain way. One classification is with respect to the time and manner the donation was made. Donation Inter Vivos takes effect during the lifetime of the donor while Donation Mortis Causa takes effect upon the death of the donor. The distinction appears to be simple but several controversies on the issue of whether the donation was inter vivos or mortis causa reached the highest court of the land.

Del Rosario vs. Heirs of Ferrer

Spouses Guadalope and Leopoldo Gonzales gave properties to their two children and a grandchild Jarabini through a document denominated as Donation Mortis Causa. “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.” (G.R. No. 187056 September 20, 2010) Upon Guadalope’s death, Leopoldo assigned his rights to his daughter Asuncion. After Leopoldo’s death, Jarabini filed a petition for the probate of the Donation Mortis Causa. Asuncion opposed. The Regional Trial Court decided in favor of Jarabini saying: “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”. And since the property was already donated to Jarabini, Leopoldo could not have assigned the same property to another because the same was no longer his. Asuncion appealed to the Court of Appeals which reversed the RTC decision. Jarabini elevated the matter to the Supreme Court on the sole issue of whether the donation was mortis causa or inter vivos.

The donation was inter vivos

The Court said: “the express irrevocability of the donation is the distinctive standard that identifies the document as a donation inter vivos. Here, the donors plainly said that it is our will that this Donation Mortis Causa shall be irrevocable and shall be respected by the surviving spouse. The intent to make the donation irrevocable becomes even clearer by the proviso that a surviving donor shall respect the irrevocability of the donation. Consequently, the donation was in reality a donation inter vivos.” Another basis for the Court’s ruling is the fact that “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 donors lifetime.” Since the donation was inter vivos, the ownership of the property passed to Jarabini even before the death of Guadalope and Leopoldo. The RTC was correct in saying that Leopoldo could not have validly assigned the property to Asuncion because it was already owned by Jarabini.


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