In Haggerty v. Thornton, the Supreme Court today concludes the Legislature hasn’t limited the ways a revocable trust can be modified as much as some Courts of Appeal had thought.

Probate Code section 15401 tells how to revoke a trust — either as provided in the trust instrument itself or by a method specified in the statute. Section 15402 says, “Unless the trust instrument provides otherwise, if a trust is revocable by the settlor, the settlor may modify the trust by the procedure for revocation.”

The court’s unanimous opinion by Justice Goodwin Liu holds that a trust instrument’s specification of a modification method doesn’t necessarily preclude using the revocation procedure to modify the trust. That procedure is fine, the court states, “unless the trust instrument provides a method of modification and explicitly makes it exclusive, or otherwise expressly precludes the use of revocation procedures for modification.”

The court affirms the Fourth District, Division One, Court of Appeal published opinion, but disapproves it to the extent it’s inconsistent with today’s decision. (Division One interpreted “provides otherwise” in section 15402 a bit differently than the Supreme Court does, but both courts reached the same result on the facts of the case.) That opinion was authored by then-appellate court justice, now Chief Justice, Patricia Guerrero. Another Guerrero appellate court opinion similarly received a mixed reception — People v. Mumin (2023) 15 Cal.5th 176 (see here). The Chief Justice was recused in today’s case and also in Mumin.

Besides the Division One opinion, the court also disapproves the Fifth District’s divided opinion in King v. Lynch (2012) 204 Cal.App.4th 1186, of which Division One was critical; the First District, Division Three, opinion in Balistreri v. Balistreri (2022) 75 Cal.App.5th 511; the Second District, Division Four, opinion in Diaz v. Zuniga (2023) 91 Cal.App.5th 916; the Third District opinion in Pena v. Dey (2019) 39 Cal.App.5th 546; and Division One’s opinion in Conservatorship of Irvine (1995) 40 Cal.App.4th 1334.

The Supreme Court denied review in King. (Related: Disapprovals of review-denied opinions show the Supreme Court is not an error-correction court.) Balistreri, which disagreed with the Division One opinion, is a grant-and-hold for today’s decision. (See here.) Diaz also disagreed with Division One, and it followed King and Balistreri, but there was no petition for review in the case. There were no petitions for review in Pena or Irvine, either.