Serbin & Carmeli have assisted Southern California clients for over 35 years on trust litigation, probate administration, probate and estate litigation, elder abuse litigation, conservatorship cases, general civil litigation, and appeals cases.  At previous firms, Howard Serbin and Michele Carmeli successfully resolved these cases for their clients:

Trust Contests

Trust Contest – Unfounded Claims 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.
  • Facts:  Brother claimed that sister had exerted improper influence on their mother to have him disinherited from mother’s trust.  Brother demanded one-half of mother’s trust assets to settle.
  • Result:  Brother settled for approximately one-tenth of original demand, on even of trial, while facing court order that he post $30,000 bond as out-of-stae litigant.
  • Facts:  Brother claimed that eldest son in family (trustee) had exerted improper influence on mother to leave him only $5,000 while remaining three siblins each received one-third of trust assets.
  • Result: Brother settled for fraction of original demand.

Trustee Removal and Surcharge:

  • 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.

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, Ursula 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 Ursula 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.


One of the Most Complicated Probates in Orange County History

  • Facts:  After learning that federal regulators from the FDIC were closing down his Savings & Loan bank, the owner drove his car into the center divider of a freeway and died.  In one of the most complicated probates in Orange County, the decedent’s estate had about $10M in assets but $100M was owed to creditors.
  • Result:  Representing the estate, Howard handled case on behalf of County Public Administrator and negotiated a settlement with federal regulators to preserve some of the assets for the decedent’s general creditors and to avoid all assets going to the FDIC.

Conservatorship Proceedings

Conservatorship and Elder Abuse

  • Facts:  Nephew of elderly woman who was frail and legally blind got aunt to sign a power of attorney by which he transferred her house into his own name.  He then moved her personal property to his home in Arizona.  Howard tried case on behalf of County Public Guardian, seeking to recover the property.  Aunt was not mentally competent to testify.
  • Result:  Howard prevailed; court ordered the house put back in aunt’s name and her personal possessions returned.

Conservatorship – Battling for Legal Control of Mother

  • Facts:  Sisters competed to be conservator of aging mother, two claiming that third sister had taken financial advantage of mother.  Client (third sister) had been the one caring for mother for years and was designated by mother to be her conservator.
  • Result:  In emotional trial, court ruled that Howard’s client should be conservator and appointed her sole conservator.

Elder Abuse

Financial Elder Abuse – Control of Ailing Parents

  • Facts:  Client, County Public Guardian, was convinced son was emotionally and financially abusing incapacitated parents.  Howard petitioned for Public Guardian to be conservator.
  • Result:  After trial began, case settled with daughter getting most of the control.  Son had intimated parents into testifying in his favor, but after case ended, parents thanked Howard for freeing them from son’s control.

Preventing Further Elder Abuse and Neglect

  • Facts:  Wife had pulled her bed-ridden husband out of numerous care facilities and hospitals, claiming they were mistreating him.  She pulled out his I.V. tube claiming he was being drowned.  Hospital, believing one more move could kill husband, asked County Public Guardian to take control of his welfare.
  • Result:  Successful trial resulted in Public Guardian becoming conservator, and wife was prevented from moving husband again and being involved with his care.

Getting to Heart of Facility’s Financial Elder Abuse

  • Facts:  Public Guardian was investigating financial abuse by nursing home operators.  Court hearing was set to question the co-operators under oath.
  • Result:  Howard’s examination of first operator was so assertive, the next witness fainted.  Ambulance was called.  Sheriff later advised Howard that man had faked the faint.

Child Protection

  • Howard was the supervising attorney for County Child Protection Services with Orange County, County Counsel, where he advised clients on life and death issues, such as a case involving a witness threatened with murder.

Mental Health

  • Howard represented the Orange County Public Guardian in numerous cases successfully obtaining orders for the commitment and treatment of severly mentall ill people.

General Civil Litigation –  Defense of Actions

As a result of work performed by Ms. Carmeli while working for insurance defense firms, Ms. Carmeli was able to obtain the following results:

Assault and Battery at Construction Site

  • Facts:  Plaintiff, employee of subcontractor, sued general contractor/developer for personal injuries resulting from his being pushed off the second story of home under construction by employee of other subcontractor.  Plaintiff suffered significant head and other injuries.
  • Result:  Ms. Carmeli negotiated dismissal of action on the basis that general contractor/developer owed no duty to injured employee.

Burn Injuries at Construction Site/Indemnity

  • Facts:  Plaintiff burned at closed cement manufacturing plant.  He sued and recovered $4 million.  Manufacturing plant sued client, who was removing conveyer belts at site, claiming that client’s negligence caused injury and indemnity was required.  Cement factory sought $2 million reimbursement from client.
  • Result: Ms. Carmeli prepared case for trial; matter went to Court of Appeal on Writ review.  Result following trial: defense verdict.

Brain Injury Due to Car Accident

  • Facts:  Plaintiff suffered significant brain injury when his vehicle was T-boned by defendant driving stolen truck owned by client’s company.
  • Result:  Ms. Carmeli’s five clients granted dismissal by way of summary judgment .

Personal Injury at Construction Site

  • Facts:  Plaintiff, employee of door subcontractor, suffered permanent injuries as a result of being struck by another subcontractor’s vehicle at a construction site.  Plaintiff sued general contractor/developer claiming developer had duty to control traffic at work site.
  • Result:  Ms. Carmeli filed pleading with result thatcourt dismissed developer/general contractor stating defendant did not owe duty to plaintiff to control traffic.

Wrongful Eviction

  • Facts: Plaintiff, female tenant, sought triple damages and punitive damages against Defendant, landlord/client, complaining that she was discriminated against in a wrongful eviction action.
  • Result: Ms. Carmeli obtained dismissal of one client on eve of trial; Plaintiff dismissed action against second client on second day of trial.

Personal Injury Caused by Animal (Horse Incident)

  • Facts:  Plaintiff, Ph.D psychologist/nurse , sued dog owners for allegedly scaring her horse into rearing on its hind legs during her horse ride in San Bernardino State Park, causing her back injuries and causing eye injury to her allegedly championship horse.
  • Result:  Michele obtained defense arbitration award after which Plaintiff dismissed action.

Defense of Cross-Complaint for Defamation, Intentional Injury and Assault and Battery

  • Facts: Plaintiff, purchaser (an attorney), sued seller of property (defendant), contending purchased home had toxic fungus.  Following failed courthouse settlement discussions, defendants counter-sued plaintiff, contending plaintiff had made defamatory statements and physically assaulted defendants during settlement negotiations.  Client’s original attorney filed motion to dismiss cross-complaint, stating it violated plaintiff’s constitutional rights to free speech.  Motion denied. 
  • Result:  Michele’s firm hired for appeal, which appeal Michele prepared.  Partial reversal on appeal, with finding that certain actions filed in the counter-suit violated client’s constitutional right to free speech.

Toxic Injury

  • Facts:  Plaintiff (a tenant) contended that he suffered significant personal injuries as a result of toxic fungus that was in his home.  Plaintiff previously had lung cancer and sought three million in damages.  Case heaviliy litigated and defended by Michele.
  • Result:  Plaintiff settled for small fraction of original demand.

Back Injury at Party/Assault and Battery

  • Facts:  Plaintiff, a young man, suffered permanent back injury as a result of fight breaking out at party in home in Yorba Linda and required four-level back surgery with medical expenses exceeding $120,000.  Case heavily litigated with Michele defending property owner.
  • Result:  Michele negotiated settlement with plaintiff receiving compensation that was less than his medical expenses

Brain Injury Resulting from Car Accident

  • Facts:  Four students struck by client’s vehicle in broad daylight when client was distracted while driving in front of high school.  Two of four students suffered brain injuries
  • Result:  Michele defended case; each plaintff settled for approximately $25,000 or less. 

Personal Injury Requiring Liver Transplant – Food Related Injury

  • Facts: Middle-aged alcoholic man ate gulf oysters causing liver failure resulting in liver transplants at UCSD Medical Center.  He sued the restaurant, the delivery truck company and the oyster fisherman.  Ms. Carmeli defended fisherman.  Plaintiff sought millions.  
  • Result:  Following the filing of a Motion for Summary Judgment prepared by Ms. Carmeli, Plaintiff accepted settlement of approximately $10,000.

Intellectual Property:

  • Facts:  Client, employee salesperson (defendant) sued for stealing trade secrets from local computer manufacturing company.
  • Result:  Michele handled defense.  Plaintiff company dismissed action against defendant and Plaintiff  and in fact agreed to pay defendant approximately $40,000 in commissions owed.

Sexual Harassment of Octogenarian:

  • Facts:  Plaintiff sued 80-year old employer (client) contending he had sexually harassed her.  Case defended by Michele.
  • Result:  Following contentious pre-trial litigation, and on eve of trial, plaintiff settled for undisclosed settlement.

Criminal Appeals

Three-Strikes Action

  • Facts:  Defendant charged with stealing four checks on four occasions and cashing checks for $10,000.  Defendant charged with four consecutive 25-year to life sentences under Three Strikes Law.  At trial, Defendant convicted and sentenced to 101-to-life term.
  • Result: Michele filed briefs resulting in full reversal on basis that Defendant denied his constitutional right to counsel.