TC establishes new criteria on spousal inheritance
The Constitutional Court (TC) of the Dominican Republic has established new criteria on spousal inheritance by annulling Article 767 of the Civil Code. This legal provision established that the assets of an estate belonged only to the surviving spouse in the event that the deceased did not leave descendants or relatives in capable degree to inherit. However, the TC has determined that this article contravenes the Constitution with respect to human dignity and the rights of the family by denying the hereditary vocation to the surviving spouse.
In judgment TC-0267-23, issued on May 18, 2023, the Constitutional Court argued that article 767 of the Civil Code lacks a legal mechanism to protect the security of the surviving spouse and that it does not recognize his or her contribution to the increase of the common property during the marriage. Therefore, the TC has set a term of two years for the National Congress to legislate on the configuration of the surviving spouse and/or the surviving consensual partner as legitimate successors of the deceased.
If at the end of this term the corresponding legislation has not been enacted, Article 767 of the Civil Code will become null and void. The Constitutional Court has highlighted the situation of vulnerability in which the surviving spouse finds himself/herself, since the law establishes conditions that are difficult to meet in order for him/her to be able to exercise his/her inheritance rights. This provision is considered incompatible with the protection of human dignity in the family sphere and far removed from the constitutional spirit that consecrates marriage as the central institution of the family.
The constitutional judges have emphasized the need to adopt a new inheritance regime that recognizes the inheritance rights of the surviving spouse and the surviving consensual partner, in accordance with the constitutional and legal provisions in force in the Dominican Republic.
The decision of the Constitutional Court is based on a direct action of unconstitutionality filed by a citizen, who argued that the inheritance order established in the Civil Code violated the family structure enshrined in the Constitution. The preference of collateral relatives or other relatives outside the nuclear family over the surviving spouse to opt for the inheritance is considered unfair, since this would allow persons who have not contributed to the formation of the assets of the spouses to appropriate those assets free of charge, disrespecting their dignity.
The Constitutional Court emphasizes that the Dominican Civil Code, promulgated in 1884, was the result of the adaptation and localization of its French equivalent. However, considering the political, constitutional and social evolution of the country in the last century, it corresponds to the Legislative Power the task of adapting the laws to the new demands and realities of society.
In conclusion, with the annulment of Article 767 of the Civil Code, the Constitutional Court of the Dominican Republic has established new criteria in relation to spousal inheritance. This decision of the Constitutional Court seeks to protect the rights of the surviving spouse and to guarantee human dignity in the family environment.
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Virgilio Santana Ripoll