Interpreting Trust Documents In California

In Wells Fargo Bank v. Marshall (1993) 20 Cal.App.4th 447, 452-453, the Court set forth the well-established guidelines for interpreting trust documents: "It is proper for the trial court in the first instance and the appellate court on de novo review to consider the circumstances under which the document was made so that the court may be placed in the position of the testator or trustor whose language it is interpreting, in order to determine whether the terms of the document are clear and definite, or ambiguous in some respect. Thus, extrinsic evidence as to the circumstances under which a written instrument was made is admissible to interpret the instrument, although not to give it a meaning to which it is not reasonably susceptible. on review of the trial court's interpretation of a document, the appellate court's proper function is to give effect to the intention of the maker of the document. Particularly in the field of interpreting trusts and wills, each case depends upon its own peculiar facts, and ' ". . . precedents have comparatively small value. . . ."