Charles Brown: Protecting the Probate Process

Charles Brown

For more than 25 years the people of Cuyahoga County were privileged to enjoy the wisdom, experience and dedication of Charles T. Brown, first as a magistrate, then as a chief magistrate and finally as a probate court mediator, before he returned his talents to private practice. As an integral part of one of the largest and most prominent probate court systems in Ohio, Brown’s careful scrutiny and studious judgement facilitated countless matters brought before this esteemed court.

“Working at the court offered me considerable experience in all aspects of probate law including probate litigation, estate planning, probate administration, guardianships and estates and I was also appointed as mediator on cases related to probate matters,” he says. “I was frequently selected by lawyers for private mediations as well, so I became well versed in both private and public mediation. Over time, it developed into more and more litigation; many families fighting over money.”

A native of Cleveland, Brown was exposed to the intricacies of our legal system at a young age. His father was an attorney and regularly worked on Saturdays to accommodate his clientele. As one of eight children, Brown laughingly recalls how his mother would seek a little peace and quiet by sending him to the of- fice with dad when possible.

“My dad always went to the office on Saturdays,” he says, “because his clients were working people and often weekends were the only time they could meet. When I was only about 5 or 6, my mom would send me downtown with him. I would amuse myself with my coloring books and watch all these people come and go. I was fascinated. On the ride home, I’d ask, ‘Who are all those people?’ He’d just say, ‘Oh, they just need help and I’m trying to help them.’ That really impressed me.

“Also, at lunch, he’d go out with his colleagues and I’d get to tag along. I loved listening to all their stories. All this intrigued me and leftan impression at a young age, and made me want to emulate my dad.”

After earning his Bachelor of Arts from John Carroll University (where he met his future wife, Barbara), Brown went on to Capital University Law School where he received his Juris Doctor. For several years, he worked for the Ohio Supreme Court before returning to Cleveland.

“I was the administrative assistant for the chief justice, where I saw the disposition of cases at the highest level,” he explains. “But eventually returned home to Cleveland where I set up my own practice.”

He had been practicing law back in Cleveland for just a few short years before being tapped to serve in the Cuyahoga County Probate Court.

“I was approached by Judge Frances Talty, the presiding judge of the Probate Court,” says Brown. “He asked if I might be interested. It seemed like a good opportunity. I honestly didn’t expect to stay as long as I did. But it proved to be a very interesting and rewarding post.”

Although he says he never consciously chose the area of probate law, it was something he found quite fascinating. “I’d practiced a little criminal law, domestic relations, wills and bankruptcy,” he says, “I never planned on specializing in probate until the opportunity presented itself. As I gained a deeper understanding of probate law, I realized this specialty impacts a vast number of people and can be highly complex and nuanced.”

While Brown says he found the work both challenging and engrossing, by 2014, when a new opportunity presented itself, he was ready to take on a new challenge.

“In coming to Mansour Gavin, I brought a skill set that filled a particular niche within the firm,” he says. “I could see how my own skills and experience complemented those of my new colleagues. I have tremendous respect for all of them. For instance, Tom Turner is a CPA and licensed in the United States Tax Court in addition to his practice as a transactional attorney. He has an extensive background in representing businesses and business owners, advising them with regard to their estate planning needs. He has a wealth of knowledge which I frequently tap on behalf of my clients.

“Julie Fischer Taft,” he continues, “is licensed in Florida. She’s an LL.M. in taxation and an estate planning specialist practicing in all areas of wealth management and estate planning for high net worth individuals and their families. This includes income, gift, estate and generation-skipping transfer tax planning, and trust and estate administration. So, she also has an impressive reservoir of knowledge and experience.

“Sandra Brantley was formerly senior counsel for PNC Bank, and has concentrated her practice on advising trustees, executors and investment managers regarding their respective duties and liabilities, and was a co-author on the Ohio Trust Code.”

Brown’s admiration for his colleagues is apparent and genuine. He goes on to talk about Timothy Boyko who practices in the areas of probate and estate planning, including wills, trusts and powers of attorney, elder law, real estate and business law.

“He’s also licensed in Florida,” says Brown, “and had a private practice in Ohio for more than 30 years specializing in probate law. He is a magistrate in the city of Broad-view Heights, so he brings that whole skill set. It’s a great team to work with.”

In acknowledging the combined experience and skills he and his colleagues possess, Brown demonstrates why the clients of Mansour Gavin are in good hands, regardless of what niche or particular areas of probate law concern them.

“Most of my clients are individuals, although I’ve been appointed trustee by the courts in complex or difficult situations,” he explains of his practice. “But by and large, I represent individuals and families who encounter probate issues and require litigation on their behalf.”

“This has been a great transition for me,” he adds. “I enjoy the people who I work with and I love the challenges and helping my clients solve problems. Every day is different, every case is different, unique with its own nuances. I enjoy the twists and turns of each one. There’s no one playbook that can cover every situation and I enjoy that kind of challenge.”

If there were one aspect of his particular area of law that gives Brown pause, it would be the fact that too many people cannot afford to have the kind of representation they need and deserve.

“Sometimes the costs are prohibitive for people to have representation,” he says. “They have the same issues, same squabbles, but if the assets are not sufficient to cover the legal fees then unfortunately, they cannot afford to have that help. Probate litigation can be a very long, drawn-out process.

“When you’re dealing with probate cases, it’s essentially arguing over money and who gets what,” he continues, “but you have to remember that in the background, the reason why everyone is there, is because either someone has died or become incapacitated leaving the distribution details up in the air. There’s a lot of personal tragedy and emotional investment.”

“Maybe that’s one of the reasons why there’s a whole school of thought that probate should be avoided like the plague,” he adds with a grin.

Sorting out the details when family members are already emotional requires a cool head and firm but fair judgement. Brown has this plus the knowledge and experience accrued over more than a quarter of a century. His work in the probate courts gives him a definitive edge when advising his clients and helping them navigate the complex path through probate.

“I’m in a position at this point in my career, where I can be selective as to which cases I take on,” he says. “When I was younger and just starting out, I never turned away any case, it’s nice to be in this position now. I’m very blessed. I’m doing what I love to do, have a wonderful family and great support system, and work with really terrific people.”

When he’s not representing clients, he and his wife of 33 years, enjoy traveling, cooking, the theater and spending time with their family that includes their three grown children and a new granddaughter.

“We’re very lucky,” says Brown. “All of our kids live within a mile of us, so we get together regularly and get to spoil our granddaughter.”

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