Do You Need a Trust Litigator?

  • After years of hard work building their nest egg, a married couple creates a trust.  Despite their careful planning, their wishes are not fulfilled after they die.  Fraud, mismanagement, and other wrongdoing in the trust administration result in outcomes never intended.  The people who were supposed to benefit the most find they are left with almost nothing.
  • A son discovers his mother’s trust leaves more to his sisters than to him.  He unsuccessfully pressures his mother to change her trust.  Later, after her dementia has progressed, the son takes his mother to an attorney to change her trust.  After mother dies, the sisters learn that the trust leaves everything to the brother.

Trust litigation deals with correcting these kinds of wrongs, and ensuring the proper administration and distribution of trust assets.

The attorneys at Serbin & Carmeli have extensive experience in trust litigation.  They have won trust contests on grounds of undue influence, successfully defended trustees from allegations of wrongdoing, challenged trust accountings, and obtained court orders for the removal of trustees.  Having practiced in probate and civil courts, they understand how trust litigation differs from general civil litigation, both because of the special duties a trustee owes to beneficiaries and because of the different kinds of relief available.

Trust Proceedings

  • Trust Contests

    A trust may be contested if the settlor (trust creator) created or modified the trust under coercion or undue influence. Someone can also challenge a trust if it was made or modified by a person who did not have the mental capacity to understand what was happening at the time. There are other grounds for challenging a trust, such as fraud, duress and forgery.

  • Trustee Removal and/or Surcharge

    If a beneficiary can prove that a trustee is not properly performing his or her duties, a court can remove the trustee from power. This may happen when a trustee is so hostile in his/her communications with the beneficiary as to affect the trust administration; when the trust has been mismanaged; when the trustee’s accounting suggests a breach of fiduciary duty or when the trustee helps himself/herself to trust property to which he/she is not entitled. The court may also surcharge (penalize) a trustee if the trustee violated his/her responsibilities and caused a loss to the trust.

  • Trust Interpretation

    In some instances, the trustee or a beneficiary may bring an action for the court to interpret the meaning of a section of a trust.

  • Contesting a Notice of Proposed Action

    When a trustee proposes certain action, such as selling real estate or a business, a beneficiary can ask a judge to prevent the trustee from taking the action.

  • Trust Reformation

    A beneficiary may ask a judge to revise the terms of an irrevocable trust due to changed circumstances.

  • Recovery of Trust Assets

    There are times in which title to an asset should be part of a trust but title is in the name of another person.  The attorneys at Serbin & Carmeli are experienced at litigation efforts to recover such assets.

  • Heggstad Petitions

    When a settlor or trustor does not properly transfer title of an asset into a trust, those assets may become part of the estate outside of the trust.  Under special circumstances, California law may allow for bringing such assets into the trust.  A special procedure called a Heggstad Petition is required.

Our Orange County probate legal team has extensive experience in these matters and can be a strong litigation advocate on your behalf in areas including Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego Counties.  We have a history of satisfied clients in this area.

Trust Contest – Unfounded Claim of Undue Influence

  • Facts: Son accused client (his father’s longtime girlfriend), of getting father to disinherit him while father was dying of pancreatic cancer.  The amended trust left most of the trust assets to girlfriend/client.
  • Result: Case settled for small fraction of son’s original demand.

Trustee Removals and Surcharges

  • Facts:  Daughter of elderly woman was trustee.  Her accounting showed many expenses that appeared to benefit daughter and not mother, though daughter claimed otherwise.  Client contested accounting and sought to have daughter removed as trustee.
  • Result:  Court suspended daughter as a trustee.  Daughter then resigned and agreed that her inheritance from the trust would be reduced by a substantial amount because of her improper expenditures.

Client Testimonial

Our case is particularly difficult and messy, but Howard has been so supportive, easy to work with, very professional, extremely honest and fair. He is easy to communicate with and timely on all paperwork filed and phone calls and email responses. Whenever we are at the courthouse with Howard, he is frequently approached by the staff who are genuinely happy to see him. It is obvious Howard is a respected and admired attorney. I would highly recommend Howard Serbin.  Jill, 2011

For a consultation, contact our office today.


The results on this page do not constitute a guarantee, warranty or preduction regarding the outcome of your legal 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.