In an interesting California appellate court decision handed down in 2019, the court was charged with determining whether a post-it note signed by the Trust’s creator constituted a valid amendment of a California Trust created in 2004 and validly amended in 2008. Ultimately, the court held that the facts and circumstances of this case led to the clear decision that the post-it note was not a valid amendment.
So, what does constitute a valid amendment of a Trust? The answer to that question lies in the language of the original Trust document. In this case, the Trust document specified that amendments had to be in writing, signed by the grantor, and delivered to the trustee.
The grantor made handwritten changes to the amended Trust document and added a post-it note as a cover letter of sorts when mailing the proposed changes to his attorney so his attorney could draft the amendment for him. Unfortunately, the grantor died before the attorney could finalize the amended Trust document.
While the grantor wrote his changes on the Trust document and ultimately signed the post-it-note, the court pointed out that the proposed changes were not included on the signed post-it-note, and that the changes delineated in the written document were not signed. Therefore, the written proposed changes and the signed post-it note were deemed two separate writings, neither of which met the original Trust document’s requirements to be considered a valid amendment. Unfortunately, in this situation, the Trust grantor’s wishes were not honored because they did not meet the legal formalities he’d specified in 2004.
This case serves as a good reminder to seek legal counsel from an experienced estate planning attorney any time you want to create an estate plan or amend existing estate planning documents. While it’s possible that a post-it note could potentially be deemed to be a valid amendment under certain circumstances, it’s not a recommended approach.
At The Estate Planning & Legacy Law Center, we can help ensure your documents comply with California law and that your estate will pass according to your wishes. To learn more and to schedule a virtual consultation, contact us today!