Trusts and Estates

Diaz v. Zuniga

Cite as B318131
Filed May 19, 2023
Second District, Div. Four

By Golnaz Yazdchi
Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP

Headnote: Trusts – Method of Amendment

Summary:  A settlor must follow the modification method set forth in the trust for an amendment to be valid.

Settlor executed a document amending the dispositive provisions of his revocable trust, and then placed the document in a container in his closet.  Following settlor’s death, the co-trustees of the trust petitioned the court for instructions concerning the validity of the amendment.  Under the terms of the trust, in order for an amendment to be valid, the settlor was required to deliver an amendment to the trustee (i.e., himself) by certified mail.  The settlor failed to do so.  Thus, the trial court held that the amendment failed to abide by the terms of the trust and was invalid.  

The appellate court affirmed.  The trust set forth a specific procedure for modification of the trust terms, which trumps the alternative statutory modification procedures under Probate Code sections 15401 and 15402.  The settlor chose a specific method for amending the trust, thus to validate an amendment that failed to abide by the trust terms would frustrate the trustor’s intent.  This is the fourth case in a line of divided cases dealing with whether the terms of the trust or Probate Code section 15402 govern when the trust instrument specifies how the trust may be modified but does not state that the method is exclusive—an issue that is pending before the California Supreme Court in Haggerty v. Thornton under Case Number S271483.

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