A man died survived by his spouse. He left a will which then became the subject of a probate (will contest) proceeding. Certain documents were sought to be produced which then became the subject matter of the present case.
Two issues were raised during the estate litigation, to wit:
1. Whether or not the instruments sought were privileged matters between the widow and her attorney; and
2. Whether or not a joint representation (by the attorney) exists between the spouses (the decedent and his spouse or widow).
A New York Probate Lawyer said the court held that the subject matter by its very nature was not confidential and was to be disclosed to the decedent in that the decedent and his wife both submitted information to the attorney to prepare wills for each of them; that the husband supplied some of the information to the attorney on behalf of his wife and there are some mutual provisions under the widow’s will and the will simultaneously executed by the decedent. While they are not mutual wills, they nonetheless were prepared simultaneously by the same attorney, and executed in the presence of the same witnesses and are of such a nature as to foreclose any claim that the information was privileged. While the contents of a person’s will should not be readily discoverable by third parties and should be confidential, the controversy herein was not between the decedent’s widow and a third person but between the widow and her husband’s estate.”
On the issue of joint representation, it has been held that where two or more persons consult an attorney for their mutual benefit, the attorney-client privilege cannot be invoked in any litigation between such persons or their descendants; rather, it may be invoked in any litigation between them and third parties. The starting point for the court’s analysis was the 4 February 2009 agreement where the parties agreed, by stipulation, to submit to the court for in camera inspection in addition to the documents ordered to be submitted. This agreement made it clear that the decedent and the widow obligated themselves to certain provisions regarding a joint estate plan. They agreed to include certain provisions in their respective wills and that it “shall inure to the benefit of and shall be binding upon the heirs, executors and administrators (for estate administration) of the parties.” Such agreement appeared to have replaced prior agreements between the decedent and the widow. The widow could not have had a reasonable expectation of privacy concerning the documents at issue. It is belied by the fact that she was a party to an agreement which bound her to effectuate a joint testamentary plan with the decedent.
Moreover, both the letters offered into evidence were addressed solely to the decedent. Both begin with “[t]he following is a summary of your estate plan”. Both refer to the “provisions of the above-mentioned agreement.” Long Island Probate Lawyers said the notes from January 30, 2009 similarly reflect the existence of the agreement. The agreement concerning a joint estate plan had been in place at the time of the correspondence and meeting.
Manhattan Probate Lawyers said he cases cited by the preliminary executors of the instant case are unwarranted. The production of the widow’s will was not sought but the un-redacted copies of two letters addressed solely to the decedent and notes from a meeting at which the mentioned agreement as well as both of their estate plans were discussed. The case cited does not find application in the present case. It was a proceeding to determine the validity of the surviving spouse’s right of election and not a probate proceeding.
As a result, the un-redacted copies of the two (2) letters, the attorney notes and the agreement was ordered to be provided to the respondent.
If you are similarly situated with the above-mentioned case and you don’t know what your options are, ask for the assistance of a lawyer. You should know the remedies available for you. Contact Stephen Bilkis & Associates and we would gladly refer you to our best Nassau County Probate Attorneys or Nassau County Estate Attorneys. Estate litigation isn’t easy; hence, our excellent knowledge of the law is what you need.