Civil Code: 180 days only

New Civil Code

By Lcda. Belén Guerrero Calderón
Tuesday, June 9, 2020
El Nuevo Día

On the occasion of offering, from my virtual Law School at the University of Puerto Rico, a seminar on the recently approved Book VI of the Civil Code of Puerto Rico, entitled "Succession by Cause of Death", I shared with the two hundred and something of cyber natives present - among them, law students and professors, judges, certified public accountants and lawyers - the reflection that today allows me to share with the readers of this medium.

I'll cut to the chase. I consider that the 180-day "concession" for the effectiveness and validity of this Code is an outrage and a lack of respect and consideration for the toga class in the country and, above all, for the notaries and notaries of Puerto Rico. It seems that the Legislative Assembly does not understand the scope and reach of its own work.

Book VI on Succession by Cause of Death is only a part of the totality of the 1820 articles contained in the new Code, which deals with provisions and rules that will greatly affect our lives and personal family, couple, affective and patrimonial relationships, among others, possibly for a century, as happened with the revoked Code. The other five books contained in the Code deal with Persons, Family, Property, Obligations and Contracts.

Does it seem fair and reasonable to you that we lawyers, and notaries, should be expected to be ready within six months to exercise our professional duties and obligations responsibly?

The subjects contained in each book of the new Code cannot be studied, understood, much less analyzed, independently of the others. Inheritance Law, in my opinion, is the most comprehensive subject of all. Let me explain.

Among the assets, rights and obligations left by the deceased we can find movable and immovable property that we could classify in infinite enumeration, such as: private or community property or both; community property that can belong to a universal community or to an ordinary community or by quotas or both; litigation; tangible and intangible; money, investments, negotiable instruments, pension plans, annuities and others.

We can also find in your assets life insurance, among other insurances; rights and obligations derived from an infinite number of possible contractual relations or from actions in which fault or negligence intervened, among others.

And also the one who dies can leave children, relatives, mourners, spouses, common-law partners, trusts, pets and animals, among others. It leaves businesses in operation of diverse nature -incorporated or unincorporated-; and an infinite diversity of unfinished matters of diverse nature, which it is necessary to solve.

Some die tested and others intestate or under mixed succession. They may leave tax obligations and causes of action against the State. Not to mention the interpretations and controversies that will arise from the new rules relating to conflict of laws, a highly complex issue that is the subject of future reflection.

Finally, it is not possible to list all the possibilities that we find when a succession is opened, which may very well cover almost all the topics contained in the Civil Code.

Finally, and without being exhaustive, I mention the fearful conflict that we know will occur when we have to apply the provisions of the new Code to wills granted under the repealed Code. We notaries must first of all assimilate this whole new order in order to advise our testators whether their wills should be revoked by new wills tempered to the new rules, which we will not be able to draw up without full knowledge of the 2020 Code.

Who can believe that 180 days is enough to deal with all of the above, which, by the way, is not exhaustive. I don't think anyone in their right mind could come to that conclusion.

It should be known that notaries in Puerto Rico belong to the Latin Notary's Office. We are not mere recipients of signatures as are the notaries of many of the jurisdictions where common law prevails. We have the unavoidable obligation to create informed consciences in our appearances and grantors, as well as to warn them about all the possible consequences of the documents we draft for them.

Here in Puerto Rico, it is strictly necessary that each notary public and notary public acquire a thorough and deep understanding of this new Code and all its contents, duly integrated, in order to be able to draft their public instruments correctly and up to date. To this end, he or she must know the elements of all contracts and the obligations arising from them; the rules that will govern property of all kinds; those that will govern persons and animals; families; marriages; couple relationships and the new rules, precisely, of succession by cause of death. It is not a matter of learning them like a parrot. It is imperative to digest, integrate and analyse these rules. The professional responsibility of lawyers and notaries is at stake.

This is serious and it's no small thing.

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