Bringing Numbers to Life: Stories in Trust and Estate Planning with Angela Bellanca Klenk

Angela Bellanca Klenk possesses a powerful ability: She looks at numbers and sees people. A celebrated estate planning lawyer, Klenk effortlessly embraces complex taxes and intricate trusts; she calms her clients’ confusion and fears; she manages their complex family dynamics, life changes and financial circumstances.

Klenk’s solo estate-planning firm, Beach Cities Estate Law, serves clients across California, but primarily in the gorgeous beach towns just outside of L.A. (Manhattan Beach, Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach, Torrance and Palos Verdes). She is a trusted advisor to the area’s lawyers, doctors, entrepreneurs and real estate developers, and her estate planning peers recently elected her to serve as President of the South Bay Estate Planning Council, the region’s leading association of trust and estate professionals.

Her typical clients have assets ranging between $5M and $50M, but her diverse client roster has included an NBA basketball team owner, a celebrated sports announcer and a Fortune 500 CEO. She helps them all navigate their finances and preserve their wealth and legacy for their families long after they’ve gone.

Klenk, who is board certified as a Specialist in Estate Planning, Trust & Probate Law by the State Bar of California, Board of Legal Specialization, founded her firm in 2013. She’d already had a varied and eminent career, with experience ranging from Big Law (at O’Melveny & Myers) to working exclusively for a 9-figure family office, to independent estate consulting work. She’s now spent the last decade offering her sophisticated expertise to the sunny Beach Cities communities.

It’s a vital space to occupy; there are very few attorneys who offer her skillset and value in the local area. From her office in Torrance, just a ten-minute drive to the ocean, Klenk supports clients in estate and gift planning, as well as trust and probate administration.

Local financial planners frequently need to add an estate planning lawyer to their clients’ teams. She receives regular referrals from planners who appreciate her intimate understanding both of their work and how she can add creative ideas and a new perspective to implement their strategies while minimizing their clients’ tax liability. It’s an enticingly efficient and cost-effective pairing; Klenk can handle complex LLCs and corporate structures without needing to hire a separate corporate lawyer to draft complex materials. She is an in-demand powerhouse – without the crushing L.A. traffic.

Klenk found her affinity for trust and estate planning in law school, but the roots of her passion began long before. An area steeped in procedure connected with her; she was that kid who actually read the detailed rules printed under the lids of the board games. Later, when Klenk slowly lost her father to Parkinson’s disease, she realized how end-of-life care can devastate a family’s emotions and finances. Now, with three children and an aging mother, Klenk continues to appreciate how her work is integral to all families.

In law school, a professor showed Klenk how her fascination with rules and a passion for helping families could find a home in trust and estate law. “When I took his class, I realized how much I wanted to work with real people and families, not faceless corporations,” she remembers. “And it played to my strengths with highly technical tax regulations and numbers. It was a perfect blend of my interests and skills.”

Her work is about families, and families are dynamic; Klenk often counsels blended families in second and third marriages. She ensures that the children from each marriage are treated fairly, with assets distributed according to their parents’ wishes. She mentions Cinderella and “The Brady Bunch” when discussing the need for written estate plans prior to remarriage: Proper planning could have prevented Cinderella’s (evil) stepmother from stealing her stepdaughter’s inheritance, and it would also clear up any potential inheritance drama for the six Brady kids.

'When I took his class, I realized how much I wanted to work with real people and families, not faceless corporations,' she remembers.

In another frequent scenario, she helps ensure clients’ special-needs children have access to the resources needed for vital lifelong care without losing their well-deserved government benefits. She helps parents of children with special needs set up Letters of Intent for their children’s future to guide future caregivers, as well as Special Needs Trusts to save money for care. This enables the children’s medical needs to be taken care of for the rest of their lives – even after the parents are gone.

The matters she handles are deeply personal, with many clients coming to her during life’s most emotional moments. As such, a high EQ is paramount. Klenk is depended upon for her discretion and non-judgmental mindset when sorting through a client’s private life. She is a willing and confidential ear for her clients as they navigate deeply personal losses. And, though her practice is filled with compassion, Klenk’s clients also trust her to be strategic, technical and fearless, minimizing their tax burdens within their risk tolerance. It’s a careful dance. Klenk describes estate planning as playing the IRS in a game of chess in which the rules are always the same, but each match is different. Fortunately, she has an intimate understanding of how the government plays the game.

Building and maintaining her clients’ trust is a responsibility Klenk takes seriously. Often, Klenk’s work centers around helping protect a family’s future in the face of heavy emotions. “When you’re making these decisions, you need to think about what’s really important, what your values are. Sometimes, you have to go to a sad place to get there. I’m a patient listener. I’m here for them.”

In these conversations, full disclosure is Klenk’s modus operandi. Knowing that estate planning and tax work is a complicated business, she ensures that her clients are well-armed with all the information needed to face life-altering decisions – but is careful to leave her clients’ choices up to them. “I don’t impose my personal ethics or feelings on their decisions,” says Klenk. “I just want to ensure that they have all the information they need to make their best decision.”

Widespread access to information is a key part of that ethos; while personalized consultations are vital, Klenk aims to make important information publicly available. On her firm’s website, she offers free resources for advance health care directives, tangible personal property memos, pet and childcare forms, and a full “kick-start guide” to California estate planning.


She also maintains a blog where she addresses common estate planning issues including updating an estate plan after a divorce, setting up a college savings plan for children, estate plans for small businesses and estate planning for digital assets.

When presented with all the information, many of her clients’ ultimate decisions are a far cry from what they presumed their plans would be when they began. For instance, Klenk explains the common misconception that clients need to wait until their death to pass their wealth to the next generations. Wealth can, and often should, be gifted long before the will is read.

Klenk remembers a client – a doctor who had a very successful career. He’d spent years saving, investing and living an understated lifestyle. His children had no idea how much their father was worth. After the client met with Klenk and his financial advisor, it became clear that the best course of action was to make a substantial gift to his children now, to have the assets grow in their hands.

“That’s a big decision for someone to make, especially when you don’t know how long you’re going to live and what resources you might need as you age,” says Klenk. When he was emotionally and psychologically ready, Klenk brought the whole family together for a meeting to explain the gift. His children were shocked – they had feared that they would need to pay for his care in his old age. Klenk fondly remembers the relief on the children’s faces – and on so many others over the years.

It's also part of the reason that Klenk’s practice is deeply generational, with client relationships that extend back to the ‘90s. “There are different phases of people’s lives,” she explains. In one example, Klenk advised a surviving spouse whose husband passed away. Years later, when she too passed away, their daughter, the trustee of the estate, sought out Klenk for guidance.

Another common misconception she sees: Estate lawyers should be retained either in old age or when a loved one is nearing the end of their life. In fact, Klenk often represents her clients’ children, some of whom are as young as 18 years of age, in setting up their first estate plans. The parents view bringing their college-bound young adults in to meet with Klenk as a life lesson; they learn the importance of planning for the future and have a skilled professional to depend on later.

With two college-aged sons and a daughter at home, Klenk understands what it means for a client to put their family’s future into her hands. It’s why she’s always found the most rewarding part of her work to be establishing that foundation of trust. “People must be comfortable and put their trust in me,” says Klenk. “I love hearing stories about how they raised their family or how they created their fortune or what career path they had. It’s just so interesting, I love it. My favorite time of the year is receiving holiday cards from my clients with gorgeous photos and stories of their families.”

At the end of the day, a complex multi-generational trust is about the people it’s going to. In some respects, the bankers boxes of tax records and returns are tangible evidence of her clients’ fascinating lives, careers and families. For Klenk, they are the opportunity to hear another story, to help clients protect their loved ones, to help change another life.