What Does Estate Litigation Entail?

Do you need assistance with a will contest?  Do you need help with other probate or estate litigation but don’t know where to start?  The attorneys at Serbin & Carmeli have helped clients in Orange and Los Angeles Counties facing the following similar situations:

  • Mom did not have a good relationship with her youngest son and left him little in her will.  His siblings know that her will accurately expressed her wishes, but the disgruntled son files a will contest, claiming Mom was unduly influenced when she created the will.
  • Dad died with his finances in disarray.  His will names his eldest son as Executor.  The son is willing to do the job, but he needs counsel on how to properly fulfill his duties.
  • After Mom dies, her daughter is put in charge of the estate.  When it comes time to show how she managed the property, the daughter’s accounting indicates mismanagement and perhaps even theft.

Probate and estate litigation arise in emotionally difficult situations like these.  At Serbin & Carmeli, we have extensive experience in probate and estate litigation.  Our attorneys have successfully defended contested wills; obtained court orders penalizing personal representatives who mismanaged estates; and advised clients through the successful completion of  some very complex estates in Orange County.

The types of probate and estate litigation that may arise include:

  • Will Contests

    Although there are many possible grounds for a will contest, most contests concern whether the deceased person was improperly influenced to make or change a will, or whether he/she lacked capacity to make or change a will.

  • Interpretation of Will

The words of a will may be unclear.  Which person is supposed to receive which property?  What should happen if there is not enough money to fulfill all the gifts made in the will?  The number of possible will interpretation issues is endless.

  • Appointment and Removal of Personal Representative

    In a probate case, the personal representative must be appointed by the court.  Getting appointed means following legal procedures and rules.  Sometimes, competing people want to be appointed, which means litigation.  There can also be litigation if  a personal representative is not properly performing hs/her duites and should be removed.

  • Surcharge Action Against Personal Representative

    The court may surcharge (penalize) a personal representative if the representative violated his/her duties and caused a loss to the estate.  Surcharge litigation is a means for recovering the amount lost due to breach of duty, and making the estate whole.

  • Recovery of Estate Assets

If the deceased person had been cheated out of property, or if legal title to his/her property was in someone else’s name, litigation may be needed to recover the property and make it part of the estate.  Like the other types of litigation, a resolution can be reached either by negotiation, mediation, or trial.  Our attorneys have had successful results at resolving cases at all these stages.

  • Notice of Proposed Action

    In some circumstances, a personal representative must give interested persons written notice before taking an action, such as selling real property or selling a business.  Litigation can result if an heir or other interested party wants to stop the personal representative from taking that action.

  • Creditor’s Claim

    If the deceased person died owing money to someone, a creditor’s claim may be filed against the estate.  The personal representative will have to determine whether the claim is valid.  Failure to approve the claim can lead to litigation between the creditor and the personal representative.

Results for Past Clients: Will Contests

Will Contest – Girlfriend Against Daughters:

  • Facts: Adult daughters challenged will that left the entire estate to client (decedent’s longtime girlfriend.)  Daughters’ childhood was largely spent in Korea, while dad was in the United States.  Daughters claimed father did not know what he was signing when he signed his will, and challenged his signature on the will.   Prior to trial, witness for client (process server) was beaten.
  • Result: Following trial in Los Angeles, Judge upheld will with girlfriend taking entire estate.

Will Contest – Neighbor v. Relatives:

  • Facts: Decedent’s will left everything to client, a neighbor who had been her student when she taught second grade.  Out-of-state relatives claimed decedent’s will was invalid and contested will.
  • Result:  Client rejected settlement offers and matter went to trial.  Judge upheld the will and client received all the property.

Will Contest – Lack of Testamentary Intent

  • Facts:  In handwriting, decedent changed her typewritten will and disinherited her nephews in favor of siblings.  Nephews claimed her writing indicated an intention to change the will in the future, not presently, and that she never did change her will.  Clients (the siblings) claimed decedent intended to change the will by the handwriting on the will itself.
  • Result:  Following trial, Judge ruled that the handwritten changes were effective in changing the will.  Clients were awarded the entire estate.  Disgruntled nephews have appealed.

Will Contest – Forgery

  • Facts:  Relative claimed a will leaving everything to his side of the family was valid.  Howard’s client claimed the will was a forgery.
  • Result:  Court agreed that the alleged will was a forgery.

Listen To Howard Speak About Probate Law On the Radio and the Internet

Howard is now donig a radio program:  “Where There’s A Will, There’s A Way” on Probate Law.  You can hear him Tuesdays, 4-5 on KNOC  1680 am (only available in parts of Fullerton) and online at www.knocradio.com.  The “listen live” button is in upper left of the screen and the call in number is 714-278-0903.   Talk with Howard about Probate Law.

Client Testimonial

Howard is the best probate attorney in Orange County and I wholeheartedly recommend him. You could not find a better one!
Sandy B., 2011

Call Serbin & Carmeli, Attorneys at Law, at (949) 753-2853 for a consultation regarding your estate and litigation matters.


We serve clients in the following Orange County areas:  Aliso Viejo, Anaheim, Brea, Buena Park, Cerritos, Chino Hills, Corona, Corona Del Mar, Costa Mesa, Cypress, Diamond Bar, El Toro, Foothill Ranch, Fountain Valley, Fullerton, Garden Grove, Huntington Beach, Irvine, La Habra, La Mirada, La Palma, Laguna Hills, Laguna Woods, Lake Forest, Lakewood, Long Beach, Los Alamitos, Newport Beach, Newport Coast, Placentia, Santa Ana, Seal Beach, Sunset Beach, Surfside, Tustin, Villa Park, Walnut, Westminster, Whittier and Yorba Linda.  We can also  arrange to meet clients in Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino Counties.