Trusts and Estates

Haggerty v. Thornton

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Cite as S271483
Filed February 8, 2024
Supreme Court of California

By Jaime B. Herren
Hartog Baer & Zabronsky APC

Headnotes: Trust Amendment – Available Methods

Summary: The statutory method of revocation is available as a method of trust modification unless the trust expressly limits method of modification.

The trust instrument reserved to the settlor the “right by an acknowledged instrument in writing to revoke or amend.”  An amendment named Haggerty as a beneficiary, but two subsequent documents excluded her.  The final amendment was an executed handwritten amendment with instructions to the settlor’s estate planning attorney to place it with the original trust document.  Haggerty argued the only available method of amendment under the trust required notary acknowledgement.  The probate court and Court of Appeal found the final amendment validly made by the statutory method of modification.

The Supreme Court affirmed.  The final amendment was valid because the settlor complied with the statutory method of signing and delivering the amendment to herself as trustee.  It is undisputed that when the trust is silent on modification method, the statutory method of revocation is available as a method of modification.  The law codifies the principle that the power of revocation implies the power of modification, and the Legislature intended to provide flexibility to settlors.  Under the law, the statutory method is available unless the trust explicitly “provides otherwise.”  Consistent with the intent and legislative history, when the trust specifies a method of modification, both the specified method and the statutory method are available.  This is true unless the trust expressly makes the specified method exclusive or expressly precludes use of the statutory method.

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