Navigating Trust Modifications: Insights from the Haggerty v. Thornton Case


In a recent California Supreme Court decision, the case of Haggerty v. Thornton sheds light on the intricacies of trust modifications. Here’s a simplified breakdown of the court’s conclusion, from attorney, Richard Hamlin:

  • If the trust provides an exclusive method of changing or revoking the trust, that is the only way to do it. For example, if the trust says the only way to modify or revoke the trust is with a notarized writing, the modification must be notarized.
  • Otherwise, a trust may be changed or revoked by any writing (other than a will). It needs to be signed by someone with the authority to do so, and the change needs to be delivered to the current trustee.

Despite the seemingly straightforward conclusion, the case’s journey to resolution spanned sixteen pages of legal analysis. Why the complexity? Different California courts of appeal held conflicting views on trust modification procedures, highlighting the inherent uncertainty in legal outcomes.

The Complexity Behind the Supreme Court’s Decision:

Each court had valid reasons for its decisions, underscoring the inherent uncertainty that can arise in legal matters. In law, the final outcome of a case is not always black and white. Attorneys, judges, appellate court justices, and even Supreme Court justices often have differing opinions on the “right” answer. This diversity of perspective reflects the complexity and subjectivity inherent in legal interpretation. It highlights the importance of seeking counsel and understanding that, in many legal situations, the answer to a question is often a resounding, “It depends.”

The key takeaway?

Legal matters rarely have a definitive answer; instead, they often depend on various factors and interpretations. The recent California Supreme Court case of Haggerty v. Thornton has clarified the rules surrounding trust modifications. While exclusive methods outlined in the trust itself must be followed, individuals can change or revoke their trust through any written document, provided it is signed by someone with authority and delivered to the current trustee.

Trust Modification Laws in California

In addition to the complexities outlined in the Haggerty v. Thornton case, it’s essential to consider the broader implications of trust modification laws in California. This decision not only clarifies specific procedures but also underscores the dynamic nature of trust-related legislation. Understanding the nuances of trust modification laws is crucial for individuals seeking to amend their estate plans effectively.

At Hamlin | Cody, we are dedicated to providing comprehensive legal counsel tailored to your unique needs and objectives. Whether you’re navigating trust modifications or other estate planning matters, we’re here to guide you every step of the way. If you have any questions or concerns about revising your trust, please do not hesitate to reach out to our experienced legal team. Call us today, at 310-216-2165.