Trusts and Estates

Haggerty v. Thornton

The California Supreme Court granted review of this case on December 22, 2021.

Cite as D078049
Filed September 16, 2021, Fourth District, Div. One

By Jaime B. Herren
Holland & Knight LLP

Headnotes: Trusts – Amendment – Available Methods

Summary: Because the trust did not make the described method of revocation and amendment the exclusive method, statutory methods of amendment were available to the settlor

Jeane Bertsch created a 2015 trust that reserved the “right by an acknowledged instrument in writing to revoke or amend.”  Jeane’s 2016 amendment named petitioner Brianna Haggerty as successor trustee and a beneficiary, but two subsequent documents excluded her.  The final 2018 amendment was an executed handwritten amendment with instructions to Jeane’s estate planning attorney to place it with her original trust document, but it was not notarized.  Haggerty argued the exclusive method of amendment under the trust required notary acknowledgement.  The probate court found the 2018 amendment valid.

The appellate court affirmed.  The 2018 amendment was valid because Jeane complied with the statutory method of amendment by signing and delivering a writing to herself as trustee during her lifetime.  By the non-exclusive language in the trust instrument, Jeane did not intend to bind herself to only to the specific method described therein.  The law is intended to provide flexibility to settlors such that a method of revocation and modification described in a trust is not exclusive unless explicitly denoted as such.  The statutory procedures for revocation and modification of a trust are available unless the trust designates an exclusive procedure, and Jeane’s trust did not specify the method of modification therein as the exclusive method.

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