G.R. No. 213994. April 18, 2018 (Case Brief / Digest)

### Title
**Mitra v. Sablan-Guevarra: A Testament to Substantial Compliance in Philippine Probate Law**

### Facts
Margie Santos Mitra petitioned for the probate of Remedios Legaspi’s notarial will, claiming to be Legaspi’s de facto adopted daughter. The will, executed before Legaspi’s death on December 22, 2004, nominated various heirs, legatees, and devised including Mitra, and named Mary Ann Castro as the executor. Perpetua L. Sablan-Guevarra and Remegio L. Sablan, asserting to be Legaspi’s legal heirs, contested the probate on the grounds that the will did not comply with the formal requirements under law, specifically highlighting issues with signing formalities and the will’s execution under undue pressure.

The Regional Trial Court (RTC) ruled in favor of the probate, finding the will properly executed and dismissing the concerns of undue influence and improper pressure due to lack of evidence. This decision was reversed by the Court of Appeals (CA) on appeal, focusing on the strict compliance requirement especially regarding the signatures of instrumental witnesses and the statement of the number of pages in the attestation clause. Mitra’s subsequent motion for reconsideration was delayed, but the Supreme Court still opted to review the case given the substantial merits involved.

### Issues
1. Did the CA err in concluding that the instrumental witnesses did not sign each page of the will as required under Article 805 of the Civil Code?
2. Was the CA correct in declaring the will defective due to the lack of the statement of the number of pages in the attestation clause?

### Court’s Decision
The Supreme Court granted Mitra’s petition, reversing the CA’s decision and reinstating the RTC’s ruling that admitted the will to probate. In resolving the first issue, the Supreme Court noted that the original will did have the signatures of the instrumental witnesses on each page, except the last, as required. The apparent discrepancy noted by the CA was a result of an errant photocopy submitted for appeal. Thus, the requirement under Article 805 was met.

Regarding the second issue, the Court distinguished between strict and substantial compliance, leaning towards the latter to avoid defeating the testator’s will on mere technicalities. It cited precedents where omissions similar to the one at hand were overlooked in favor of the will’s probate, emphasizing that the attestation clause’s failure to state the number of pages did not render the will defective, given that this information was provided elsewhere in the document.

### Doctrine
This case underscores the principle of substantial compliance under Article 809 of the Civil Code over strict compliance in matters of probate law, particularly when such compliance does not detract from the will’s authenticity or the testator’s intention.

### Class Notes
– **Substantial vs. Strict Compliance**: The Supreme Court’s decision in this case provides clarity on the preference for substantial compliance in the execution and attestation of wills when such compliance serves the interests of justice and upholds the testator’s intent, without compromising the document’s authenticity.
– **Article 805 of the Civil Code**: This provision requires that the testator and the instrumental witnesses must sign each page of the will, except the last, on the left margin. The case demonstrates the Court’s practical approach in interpreting this requirement.
– **Article 809 of the Civil Code**: Highlighting the allowance for minor procedural defects in the absence of fraud, bad faith, or undue influence, as long as the will has been executed in substantial conformity with the law.

### Historical Background
This case illustrates the evolving jurisprudence on wills in the Philippines, balancing between upholding procedural requirements to prevent fraud and recognizing the realities and errors that may arise in the execution of wills. It signifies a move from the strict adherence to formalities to a more judicious application of the law, ensuring the decedent’s wishes are honored to the greatest extent possible.


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