In In re Rittenmeyer, the mother of the decedent was the executor of his estate. No. 05-17-01378-CV, 2018 Tex. App. LEXIS 6647 (Tex. App.—Dallas August 22, 2018, original proceeding). The executor sued her son’s wife and his employer, alleging that the estate had the right to certain bonuses due to a pre-nuptial agreement. The decedent’s wife alleged that the pre-nuptial agreement may not be enforceable because of fraud, i.e. fair disclosure of property and financial obligations and fraudulent inducement to sign the agreement based on statements that the son made about having the wife cared for by a trust. The wife sought discovery of drafts of wills prepared after the will admitted to probate, 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 due to the attorney-client privilege. The wife maintained that the documents were 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 initially denied the mandamus and issued an opinion. In re Rittenmeyer, No. 05-17-01378-CV, 2018 Tex. App. LEXIS 2812 (Tex. App.—Dallas April 19, 2018, original proceeding), which was reported by this Blog. The mother filed a motion for rehearing, and the court issued a new opinion, granting the relief sought.
The Court noted that wife had the burden of establishing that the exception applied and stated the importance of the attorney-client privilege. The court stated:
For the exception to apply, the rule first requires that the information is “relevant to an issue between parties.” It is well-established that evidence is relevant if: “(a) it has any tendency to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence, and (b) the fact is of consequence in determining the action.” Texas courts have applied the rule 503(d)(2) exception when a party contends the information is relevant to a claim that a decedent lacked capacity to execute codicils or trust documents or was subject to undue influence.”
Id. The wife argued that she believed that the mother destroyed a subsequent will that her husband had executed, and that drafts of wills and related communications would be relevant to that topic. The court disagreed and stated:
Significantly, however, Chris could not have revoked the 2011 Will “except by a subsequent will, codicil, or declaration in writing, executed with like formalities, or by . . . destroying or cancelling the same or causing it to be done in his presence.” Documents showing Chris’s “present intent to change or revoke a testamentary instrument in the future cannot accomplish revocation of the instrument, nor [are they] evidence of the revocation.” Consequently, drafts of wills are not relevant to whether Chris executed a later will. For the same reason, drafts of wills are not relevant to Nicole’s claims that Hedy and Ashley destroyed “a later Will” that Chris executed.
Id. The court concluded that the wife did not establish that an exception applied to the attorney-client privilege regarding the draft wills and related correspondence.
The mother also challenged the trial court’s order requiring her to produce trust documents naming her son and the wife. The court ruled that any trust created by the mother and the father would not be within the exception because they were the settlors and not the husband. Therefore, the court of appeals’ new opinion granted mandamus relief for the mother.