Court Holds That Drafts Of Trust Documents Are Discoverable And Discusses The Attorney-Client Privilege

by Winstead PC
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In In re Rittenmeyer, the mother of the decedent was the executor of his estate. No. 05-17-01378-CV2018 Tex. App. LEXIS 2812 (Tex. App.—Dallas April 19, 2018, original proceeding). Among other claims, the decedent’s wife alleged that there was a new will that superseded the will (“2011 Will”) admitted to probate. The wife sought discovery of drafts of wills prepared after the 2011 Will, trust documents where the decedent was a beneficiary, and communications reflecting the decedent’s intentions regarding providing for the wife. The mother objected to the discovery requests and asserted that the documents were privileged. The wife maintained that the documents are excepted from privilege by Texas Rule Evidence 503(d)(2), which provides that the attorney-client privilege does not apply “if the communication is relevant to an issue between parties claiming through the same deceased client.” Id. The trial court granted the wife’s motion to compel, and the mother filed a petition for writ of mandamus.

The court of appeals first discussed the law regarding Rule 503(d)(2):

Texas jurisprudence contains scant authority addressing the exception found in Rule 503(d)(2). …Texas courts have applied the exception to information like the discovery at issue here in cases in which a party contends a decedent’s will does not reflect the decedent’s true intent. See, e.g., In re Paschall, 2013 Tex. App. LEXIS 1254, 2013 WL 474368, at *7 (trust documents not privileged because the documents are relevant to parties’ claims that they are the decedent’s heirs at law and their assertion that the trust into which the estate was poured is invalid); see also In re Tex. A&M – Corpus Christi Found., 84 S.W.3d 358 (Tex. App.—Corpus Christi 2002, orig. proceeding) (permitting depositions of decedent’s counsel regarding decedent’s intentions and capacity where Foundation alleged decedent’s gift to the Foundation was planned and valid whereas estate contended the gift to the Foundation was procured through fraud).

Courts in other jurisdictions have also excepted similar discovery from the attorney-client privilege where, as here, the dispute is between the executor or representative of the estate and someone claiming rights under the decedent’s estate. See Remien v. Remien, No. 94 C 2407, 1996 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10114, 1996 WL 411387 (N.D. Ill. July 19, 1996) (discovery not subject to the privilege because the dispute arose “between parties who claim through the same deceased client” where the daughter and the co-executors of the father’s estate both claimed property rights through father, and the documents at issue were relevant to that dispute, which centered on the father’s intentions regarding the distribution of stock); see also Petition of Stompor, 165 N.H. 735, 740, 82 A.3d 1278, 1282-83 (2013) (applying Remien and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Foundation and holding that attorney’s file was not privileged because it was relevant to determining whether the petitioner unduly influenced the parents at the time they executed their estate plan in 2004 and to ascertaining whether the 2004 estate plan documents reflected the parents’ true intent).

Id. The court held that the case at issue was similar to the other Texas cases cited above in that involved a dispute between a decedent’s estate and a party who claims to be a beneficiary under the estate either through a subsequent will or because the probated will does not reflect the decedent’s intentions. The court concluded: “Under these facts, we conclude the trial court was within its discretion in applying Rule 503(d)(2) to the discovery, determining that the parties claim through the same deceased client, and compelling relator to produce that discovery.” Id. The court denied the mother’s petition for writ of mandamus.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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