Probate Code Section 15401

We’ve been your dogged reporter on the ever-growing logjam in the Courts of Appeal on trust modification procedure. We’ve followed the twists and turns that courts have taken as they’ve tackled the question of what happens when a trust amendment complies with statutory amendment requirements, but fails to follow the trust’s own specified amendment procedure. We’ve zigged with Pena v. Dey, zagged with Haggerty v. Thornton, and zigged right back again with Balistreri v. Balistreri.

The California Supreme Court is poised to provide a definitive answer. It granted review in Haggerty v. Thornton and the case was fully briefed as of July 20, 2022. Hence, it seemed that the Courts of Appeal might sit on any new cases dealing with the issue and await the Supreme Court’s decision.

Spoiler alert: they didn’t.

The First District Court of Appeal recently joined the widening chasm amongst California appellate courts concerning trust modification procedure. Probate Code section 15402 is seemingly straightforward, consisting of a lone sentence: “Unless the trust instrument provides otherwise, if a trust is revocable by the settlor, the settlor may modify the trust by the procedure for

[Editor’s Note: The California Supreme Court granted review of Haggerty v. Thornton on December 22, 2021 in Case No. S271483.  The Supreme Court is likely to resolve the conflict between Haggerty v. Thornton and King v. Lynch.  In the meantime, per the Supreme Court’s order, the Haggerty opinion remains citable.]

The Legislature and courts

Creators of trusts (also known as settlors or trustors) usually think long and hard about how their property should pass when they die.  It’s therefore common for trustors, or their lawyers, to incorporate protective safeguards into their trust instruments to shield trustors from their own whim and indecision, and ensure nobody trifles with their wishes