A Trust Contestant is Entitled to Prior Estate Planning Documents to Establish Standing: Boren v. Rogers, 243 So. 3d 448 (Fla. 5th DCA 2018)

This 2018 opinion from Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal is an issue often found in trust cases when conducting discovery. The Fifth District held that, in a trust contest, unless there is a finding of good cause not to produce the documents, a trust contestant is entitled to obtain prior estate planning documents of a decedent, when the trust contestant needs such documents to establish his or her standing as a prior interested beneficiary of the trust.

In Boren, Ann Boren filed a trust complaint seeking to void certain trust documents, alleging that it was the longstanding estate plan of the decedent to leave her estate to her family members, which was changed upon the undue influence of a non-family member, Evelyn Rivera, resulting in the decedent executing 2 trust amendments (in 2013 and 2014) at a time that the decedent lacked the requisite capacity to sign them.

The drafting lawyer, Thomas Rogers, was a named co-trustee in the contested trust documents, and answered the trust complaint. Mr. Rogers alleged that Ms. Boren lacked standing because she had to show that she was a beneficiary in prior documents that she was not contesting. Likely after seeing this allegation, Ms. Boren issued discovery, requesting all prior trust documents and Mr. Rogers objected by way of seeking an order of protection. After a hearing, the trial court ordered the documents to be produced for an in camera inspection, and ultimately issued the order of protection without explanation. Ms. Boren sought review by the appellate court by filing a petition for writ of certiorari.

The appellate court granted the petition, quashed the protective order and remanded the matter back to the trial court. More particularly, the Fifth District looked at Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.280, which permits discovery that is relevant and which would be admissible at trial or is reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. The Fifth District reasoned that, because Ms. Boren required the prior trust documents to establish her standing in the case to contest the trust documents, the order which precluded their production thereby precluded her from her claim. This was a matter that could not be corrected later on direct appeal either, in that she would lack the ability to explain that the prior trust documents would have established her standing to contest them in the first place.

Should you be in a position where you were a beneficiary of an estate plan, but are no longer, it would be prudent to consult with your trusted estate and trust litigator about whether an estate or trust contest would be appropriate.