POSTSCRIPT / February 3, 2019 / Sunday


Opinion Columnist

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Battle royal looms over mogul’s estate

A COURT battle looms as two families of a tycoon who recently died fight over the ownership and control of his vast business empire reported to be worth hundreds of billions of pesos.

First blood had already been drawn when his second wife took to court in Makati for approval of a will purportedly left with her by the magnate.  But the matriarch of the first family is reportedly contesting the probate petition set to be heard this month.

Parties familiar with the case said the first wife will assert her status as the lawful surviving spouse and defend the birthrights of her children by the man whom she loved and companioned for some 60 years.

Our reference here to a “first” and a “second” wife is based only on their claimed date of marriage to the taipan, without inferring any legal priority or ascendancy. He married the first wife reportedly in 1961 in Hong Kong, antedating that of the second.

We do not have copies of the supposed marriage contracts, but some lawyers we have consulted opined that if the earlier marriage is valid, it could mean that the marriage claimed by the second wife could be bigamous.

Last we heard, the first wife resides in South Forbes, and the second in North Forbes. The man carefully managed his time, especially his eating and sleeping, between the two nearby locations.

Under the new civil code, lawyers have told us, even a common law wife is legally entitled to a reasonable share of the estate, and that illegitimate children are also entitled to half a share from the shares of the legitimate offsprings.

My unsolicited opinion as a non-lawyer who has lived life long enough is for the parties to just work out an amicable settlement since there is more than enough ($4.3 billion, according to Forbes magazine) for everybody anyway.

The tycoon, who died at age 85 of pancreatic cancer last November, has two children with his first wife, and four with the second.

On his business empire depend thousands of workers and employees in various companies, some of which are blue chip and publicly listed, while some are in joint venture with large foreign firms. The second wife’s family controls many of the blue chip corporations.

He was also into auto, property development, power generation and insurance. As a young entrepreneur who had experienced difficulty borrowing from a bank, he decided to put up his own.  That bank is now one of the country’s largest and most trusted.

His first wife, a Filipina who used to work in a bank, was said to have helped him immensely in the paperwork and the followup with the Central Bank in setting up his own bank.

• Estate planning avoids inheritance taxes

IT LOOKS uncharacteristic for an astute businessman to have foregone estate planning that would have systematically distributed his assets during his lifetime.  The will and testament that he left could cause more problems than resolve differences between his families.

Estate planning is often left out of the bucket-list of Filipinos. Most people either just shrug it off or simply put off making one while hoping that the inevitable does not come yet.

Gerald Sacks, an expert on estate planning, describes it as a detailed and systematic study of the personal and financial affairs of an individual. The goal is to so dispose of assets, especially properties and earnings, as to give his heirs maximum benefits and satisfaction.

“You can avoid jealousy and hatred,” says Sacks, “with one stroke of the pen.”

There is no more need for a will when there is estate planning, since the properties would have already been distributed before death. Many wealthy individuals use this device to avoid paying huge estate or inheritance taxes, which are higher than ordinary transfer taxes (like for capital gains).

Absence of such a plan subjects survivors to the myriad complex laws on succession. Chapter 1 of Book 3 of the New Civil Code provides the legal gobbledygook on succession, being one of the modes of transfer of property.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 3, 2019)

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