Attorney Brian Brandlin handles trust and estate planning so families can avoid disputes and Rod Burkley handles cases that result when conflicts do arise.
Unfortunately, disputes occur in almost a third of all cases when there’s a trustee or executor of an estate, Brandlin says.
“It’s unfortunate,” he says. “Families always get along until mom and dad dies, and then the claws come out.”
In addition to Burkley and Brandlin, the firm includes Deborah Keesey, and it recently added Brian’s brother Bruce and Bruce’s son Chris, who both have backgrounds in liability defense. Bruce worked for 18 years with a grocery store chain defending liability and employment cases. Chris worked downtown in insurance defense litigation.
Now the father and son plan to take on the same type of cases as plaintiff attorneys, representing employees and others injured in accidents. Bruce says having worked on both sides of the aisle makes him a better lawyer.
“I like what I’m doing,” Bruce says. “It’s nice to be able to help people. And it’s nice I can work with my brother and son. I’ve always liked practicing law. Not all lawyers do.”
Rod, the senior partner in the group, says with the addition of Bruce and Chris, the firm can serve a wider range of clientele. From its offices in the California Bank and Trust Building on Hawthorne Boulevard in Torrance, Burkley and Brandlin handle an ever broadening range of cases.
“I think we have an excellent reputation in the community,” Burkley says. “We get a lot of referrals from probate attorneys and other colleagues. We’re grateful — receiving the accolades of fellow professionals is a highly regarded endorsement.
Burkley says families are always better off settling their differences rather than taking it to court, but often times personal issues get in the way and people fight until the assets are depleted.
“The challenge is convincing your clients they are better off settling than proving they are 100 percent right,” he says.
“Part of the problem with the family situation is they have so much emotion involved,” Brian says. “Because it’s family, parties often fight without logic or reasoning. Emotion and anger get the best of them and they require legal counsel to navigate through the seemingly impossible issues. Without help, they often find that they may not have reached a settlement.
The best way to avoid a conflict is through better estate planning beforehand, they say.
“You think people with money do a lot of planning, but there are so many people who don’t, who have fairly large estates, and they are very successful people their whole life. They’re usually entrepreneurs who helped grow their company but they had little time for their own affairs. You’ll see lots of these large estates that have just this bare bones planning. Some even die without a will or a trust.”
An ongoing problem in the estate and trust field is the issue of conservators. In the past, anyone could hold themselves out as a conservator of an estate, which invited problems with people who were trying to steal money. Now there are more requirements but Brian says he’d like to see the legislature impose still more oversight.
“I don’t know that there is any requirement that these people have proof of insurance,” says Brian, who advises the first thing people need to do is start with an estate planning lawyer.
The biggest problem is greed and opportunity.
“We see a lot of death bed will and death bed trust amendments that are the result of undue influence not only by children, but neighbors and caregivers and sometimes strangers. We help people protect their assets, their families and their legacies.” Rod says.
Burkley and Brandlin, 21515 Hawthorne Blvd., Suite 1260, Torrance. (310) 540-6000. Burkley-Brandlin.com