Many people familiar with litigation probably think of pretrial discovery in the context of traditional and often heated litigation—perhaps a contentious divorce, a complex contractual or real estate dispute or a contested personal injury or medical malpractice lawsuit. While pretrial discovery in Florida is certainly very common in these types of cases, the Florida Probate Rules allow for discovery even in non-contested, routine estate administrations where there are no adverse parties or claims, i.e., matters where no one is suing anyone else.
Rule 5.080 the Florida Probate Rules provides as follows:
(a) Adoption of Civil Rules. The following Florida Rules of Civil Procedure shall apply in all probate and guardianship proceedings:
(1) Rule 1.280, general provisions governing discovery.
(2) Rule 1.290, depositions before action or pending appeal.
(3) Rule 1.300, persons before whom depositions may be taken.
(4) Rule 1.310, depositions upon oral examination.
(5) Rule 1.320, depositions upon written questions.
(6) Rule 1.330, use of depositions in court proceedings.
(7) Rule 1.340, interrogatories to parties.
(8) Rule 1.350, production of documents and things and entry upon land for inspection and other purposes.
(9) Rule 1.351, production of documents and things without deposition.
(10) Rule 1.360, examination of persons.
(11) Rule 1.370, requests for admission.
(12) Rule 1.380, failure to make discovery; sanctions.
(13) Rule 1.390, depositions of expert witnesses.
(14) Rule 1.410, subpoena.
(15) Rule 1.451, taking testimony.
All of the regular tools for discovery—interrogatories, requests for production of documents, depositions, requests for admissions and subpoenas—that are available in conventional and contested litigation is, pursuant to the above rule, also available in ordinary estate administration matters, as well as adversarial probate and guardianship cases. A beneficiary of an estate, for example, who has not filed any type of adversary proceeding in probate but who wants more information with respect to transfers of property or money made by a decedent in the three years before he passed away is entitled to serve interrogatories and a request for production of documents on the personal representative of the estate and can even set the deposition of that personal representative if that beneficiary believes that a deposition is necessary.