September 24, 2019

Amending a Trust

Practically every revocable trust will contain an amendment or modification clause which details how the trust can be validly changed. For example, the settlor may want to modify the successor trustee or beneficiaries because of a change in circumstances. It is common to change a revocable trust at least once during the lifetime of the settlor(s).

A recent published appellate decision touched upon the issue of compliance with a trust amendment clause:

Pena v. Dey (2019) _______ CA4th _______

"In this case, we must determine whether James Robert Anderson, settlor and trustee of the James Robert Anderson Revocable Trust (the trust), validly amended the trust when he made handwritten interlineations to one of the operative trust documents, specifically the First Amendment to the trust (First Amendment), making Grey Dey a beneficiary. After making the interlineations, Anderson sent both the original trust instrument and the interlineated First Amendment to his attorney to have the new disposition of his trust estate formalized in a second amendment to the trust. Anderson died before the formal amendment was prepared for his signature."

"We conclude the interlineations did not validly amend the trust because the trust specifically requires amendments "be made by written instrument signed by the settlor and delivered to the trustee." (Italics added.) While the law considers the interlineations a separate written instrument, and while there can be no doubt Anderson delivered them to himself as trustee, he did not sign them. Instead, he sent them to his attorney to have them formalized into a second amendment to the trust and prepared for his signature, evidencing his intent to sign the changes to his trust at a later date. We also reject Dey's argument that Anderson effectively signed the interlineations by attaching a Post-it® note to the documents he sent to his attorney, on which he stated: "Hi Scott, [¶] Here they are. First one is 2004. Second is 2008. Enjoy! Best, Rob." We cannot conclude these lines on the note were part of the written instrument comprised of the interlineations to the First Amendment to the trust such that the signature on the note effectively signed the interlineations. Instead, Anderson signed a separate note indicating what the enclosed documents were. While there is no dispute in this case that Anderson intended Dey to receive a portion of his trust estate, there is also no genuine dispute that Anderson intended to sign this and other changes to his trust when formalized by his attorney. Unfortunately, he died before that could be accomplished. We must therefore affirm the summary judgment entered in this case."

It is clear that Mr. Anderson intended to change his trust and made a substantial effort to do so. Unfortunately he did not complete the process, i.e. signing the amendment, and that was the crux of Mr. Dey's argument.