Get to Know Robert E. Kass

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Robert E. Kass is a member of the Detroit law firm of Barris, Sott, Denn & Driker, where he chairs the firm’s Tax, Estate Planning & Probate group.

Kass is a graduate of Wayne State University and University of Michigan Law School, both with honors. He received a Fulbright Fellowship to study at the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, Switzerland, and earned his Master’s of Law (in Taxation) at New York University. 

He is a Fellow of the American College of Trusts & Estates Counsel, and is listed in “Best Lawyers in America” and “Michigan Super Lawyers” in the field of Trusts & Estates. His practice is concentrated in the areas of estate planning and administration, and planned charitable giving.

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

What would surprise people about your job? People – even other lawyers – think trusts and estates work must be dull. In my experience the T&E practice has been fascinating and extremely challenging. It has permitted me to get to know amazing clients – inventors, scientists, and entrepreneurs – and be a real counselor. I have seen palace intrigue and have had to craft solutions for life’s most difficult challenges in terms of intra-family relations. I have also done advanced estate planning, resulting in tremendous tax savings for multiple generations, and have been extremely successful in defending against IRS challenges.

Why did you become a lawyer? My father was a family physician who worked too hard. I was not inclined to follow in his footsteps. In 8th grade I wrote a paper on my future career, and randomly picked the law. I wrote letters to several lawyers, and asked why they chose the law. Each answered the specific question, but one, a Wall Street lawyer, wrote me a very long letter responding to every point. He became my mentor.

Who are your law role models? Senior partners in my law firm have shown me how you can be a real counselor, be honest, ethical, and solve problems about which you may know very little when you start.

What advice do you have for someone considering law school? Consider your choice very carefully. Law practice is very challenging and you have to be “driven” to succeed. Be strategic, responding to the needs of clients, learning new areas of the laws if necessary. Try to get practical experience, maybe an additional degree, to distinguish yourself from other applicants. Get involved in your community, build a reputation, and be serious about networking. To quote one of our late senior partners, “You can be the best lawyer in the world, but if you aren’t known you may starve.”

What’s your proudest moment as a lawyer? I handled a pro bono merger of two synagogues, a very rare occurrence. We achieved the goals of most of the members and the surplus real estate benefited a school. It was a win-win for everyone. A news article showed a chessboard with all the right moves made by all sides.

What other career path might you have chosen? From time to time I have thought about being a wealth advisor or maybe a development officer for a charity.

Favorite app: Waze, an interactive GPS navigation program. It saved me from getting stuck in traffic many times.

Favorite music: Ethnic music of other countries, classical music and jazz.

What is your most treasured material possession? I have rendered some photos from my travels as watercolors. I have a small collection of “the best of the best.” They make people smile.
What’s the most awe-inspiring place you’ve ever been? Walking on Perrito Mereno glacier in Southern Argentina. We had to walk over crevasses. I kept telling myself to just take one step at a time and not think about what would happen if I slipped.

What’s one thing you would like to learn to do? Play a musical instrument. I may try the clarinet in retirement.

What’s the best advice you ever received? “Don’t take your spouse for granted.”

What is your motto?
“Be careful with your work. You can rush to get it out, but your client will have an eternity to contemplate it.”

What is the most unusual thing you have done?
Meeting my wife when I was working in Brussels, getting engaged 10 days later, married 6 weeks later (42 years ago). When asked by my future mother-in-law if we knew each other well enough after 10 days, I acknowledged we did not. But we felt it was right, and we agreed to negotiate differences rather than litigate them.

Tell us about your books:? I have co-authored two legal guides for laymen. “The Executor’s Companion,” at carobtreepress.com, is a plain-English guide to settling a Michigan estate. It’s like a bedside companion for someone who has suffered a loss, but is also used by people to get their kids thinking about eventually settling an estate. The second is “Who Will Care When You’re Not There? Estate Planning for Pet Owners,” available on Amazon. This is an important issue, and a huge problem for those who don’t have family, or who have animals such as horses or parrots that are difficult to care for and live a long time. 

What do you do to relax?
I love to cook, travel internationally (I have family and a client in Europe and go there frequently), and I have always been an amateur photographer. I also am writing a novel, but while that’s fun it is not relaxing.

Your novel is inspired by actual events? I practiced international law for five years in Brussels. One client was an Argentine banker whose charter jet crashed in Mexico. His remains were identified, cremated, and within weeks all the banks in his group worldwide failed. Millions of dollars were missing. There was speculation he wasn’t in the plane, that it was a set-up. The novel is inspired by this event and is an international legal thriller with political overtones. But to be clear, I don’t know where the money is! The first draft is almost done. I will probably self-publish as an e-book.

What is something most people don’t know about you? In 2010 I interviewed a former colonel from the Argentine dictatorship of the 1970s, who justified why they “disappeared” somewhere between 8,000 (his estimate) and 30,000 people (the figure advanced by the opposition) “to save the nation.” Trials, he said, were not necessary. “We had information. They were rebels, they were guilty, and we killed them.” This incident plays into my novel.

What’s your favorite law-related TV show, movie, and/or book?
I read legal thrillers by John Grisham and Lisa Scottoline, but mostly to encourage myself to finish my own legal thriller.
 

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