Michigan Law grad helps clients plan for posterity

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Attorney's career spans 3 decades in trust, estate law

By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

Linda Wasserman, a partner at Honigman, Miller, Schwartz, & Cohn LLP in Bloomfield Hills, enjoys combining tax law with the opportunity to develop close and personal client relationships.

''Creating an effective estate plan requires taking the time to really understand each client's individual values, goals and priorities, for themselves, their business and their family,'' says Wasserman, a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School. ''It's like putting together a complicated puzzle, with the final result meeting that family's unique goals.''

She especially relishes being involved in charitable planning.

''It's wonderful to help a client make a charitable gift that is strategic and impactful, brings pleasure to the client, and is positive for the community.''

In one memorable case, Wasserman got a phone call from a 74-year-old man, wanting to get his affairs in order after a diagnosis of inoperable cancer. He asked Wasserman to visit his home in Bloomfield Hills to understand the nature of his estate.

''When I entered the home, I was blown away,'' she says. ''The walls were filled with Colonial era art and the home decorated with Colonial era furniture and furnishings--all clearly of museum quality. Although I'm far from an American art expert, I recognized immediately that this was something very special.''

One room was filled from floor to ceiling with bookshelves jammed with antique mechanical banks--each one of which was a work of art.

''He was the most passionate collector I've ever met,'' Wasserman says. ''Like most passionate collectors, he viewed himself as merely the guardian of his collection. He wanted a few pieces to go to museums but his vision was to send his collection back out into the world to allow others the opportunity to enjoy it.''

The client had few financial assets, having invested every spare penny in his collection. After his death, the collection was sold in a single owner sale at Sotheby's in New York and as he wished, a number of his most special pieces were contributed to the National Gallery and the Detroit Institute of Arts, while a desk is now at the White House.

Wasserman, named among Best Lawyers in America, Michigan Super Lawyers, and DBusiness, Top Lawyers, would encourage law students and new attorneys to enter her field.

''Trusts and estates has been a terrific area of practice--it's held my interest for more than 30 years,'' she says. ''It also allows for life outside of the office, as there are few emergencies or deadlines.''

Wasserman, whose husband Joseph Aviv is also a partner at Honigman, previously worked for Jaffe Raitt as well as Miro, Weiner, & Kramer, which combined with Honigman in 2004.

Wasserman's parents encouraged her to have a profession so she would be financially independent. She chose law as being challenging and providing interesting opportunities, as a lawyer or in business.

''Many of the law professors were real characters and had great passion for their subjects,'' she says of her studies at U-M Law School. ''My favorite professor was L. Hart Wright, who taught federal income tax. I still hear his voice in my head when I'm struggling with a difficult tax issue--'Stand up on top of the world, look down, ignore the fly specks, and figure out what the answer ought to be.'''

Born in Detroit, and calling Birmingham home since 1963, Wasserman says she feels lucky to be able to live, work, and have raised her children in Oakland County.

''My children were able to grow up in a safe place that harkens back to the idyllic small towns of story books, with summer concerts and fairs, and riding their bikes to the library and movies.''

The family also enjoys the parks, bicycle trails, Detroit Zoo, and the beauty of the Cranbrook campus--Wasserman's retreat when she needs peace and quiet--''all of which make Oakland County a very special place to live,'' she says.

Her office is 5 miles from home, and her four daughters--now ranging in age from 19 to 33--all attended nearby Cranbrook Schools, where she was once a student. The proximity made the life/work balance easier, and allowed her to attend every important school event.

Wasserman gives back to her community by serving on several nonprofit boards: she is senior trustee on the Cranbrook Educational Community board of trustees; vice chair of the Detroit Zoological Society board of trustees; a board member of the Beaumont Foundation where she chairs the Women's Leadership Initiative; and chair of the Planned Giving Task Force of United Way of Southeastern Michigan. She also serves on the Professional Advisory Committee and Steering Committee of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit/United Jewish Foundation; and on the Detroit Institute of Arts Tannahill Society Advisory Committee.

''I was brought up with the notion that those of us who are lucky enough to be able to do so, have the obligation to give back to our communities. To me this means not just writing a check, but using my legal experience and knowledge to make a difference.''

In her leisure time, Wasserman enjoys reading and knitting, and loves to travel.

''Joe and I have taken motorcycle trips--I hold on tight, he drives--all over the world.''

Published: Thu, Jun 28, 2012

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