Published April 17, 2012
Volume 20, Number 4

Attorney Michele Matsumura Specializes in Estate Planning   

By Nicole Zaro Stahl

As an attorney, Michele Matsumura focuses her practice on the areas of estate planning, probate, and trust administration. A Masters in Taxation enables her to incorporate tax minimization strategies into her estate planning guidance. Her work with clients ranges from basic planning to advanced opportunities like charitable remainder trusts, life insurance trusts, and trusts for the benefit of children.

Before opening her own firm in Hacienda in 2006, she was an associate attorney with a boutique estate planning practice for a number of years. Matsumura took the extra steps to earn the designation of Certified Specialist, passing a subject-specific bar exam and submitting recommendations from other attorneys familiar with her work.

Strong people and organizational skills complement her technical background. These personal traits are important in a field where sensitivity and deep feelings can come into play.

“Estate planning entails organizing clients' assets, to make sure they are managed as desired after they have passed away,” she explains. “I am not a financial adviser, but I do believe in ‘eating the last piece’—clients should enjoy what they have worked so hard for all their lives. Family harmony can be an issue in certain circumstances, and the goal is to make sure everyone still gets along.”

Unlike the dramatic scenes depicted in fiction, however, the opening and reading of a will in front of anxious family members is not standard practice. Despite almost 20 years in her profession, “I’ve never done a reading of the will--that’s for television,” Matsumura says.

Growing up, Matsumura’s world was more “Little House on the Prairie” than “L.A. Law.” She was raised in Yuba City, a Central Valley agricultural community between Chico and Sacramento, and lived on a farm herself. Her father planted his 300-plus acres with a variety of crops: tomatoes, walnuts, peaches, asparagus, watermelons, kiwi--“a little bit of everything to diversify,” Matsumura comments.

Rural living included some unconventional pastimes, like planting her own pumpkin garden among the walnut trees, target shooting against a haystack, and riding ATVs out in the field. Her father had partial ownership of a Cesna, so there were occasional get-aways. Still, her childhood was “typical,” spent with friends, Campfire Girls activities, and lots of tennis, where she and her younger sister were ranked as juniors in the USTA Nor Cal division. When Matsumura would visit cousins in San Jose, she was wistfully attracted to the amenities of the urban environment, but in retrospect she appreciates the freedom of life on the farm.

Matsumura and her sister did some field work, spending summers sorting peaches, gathering walnuts, working on the tomato harvester. “It was really hard physical labor. It’s hot, over 100 degrees, even if you start early in the morning.” The chores were done more as a life lesson—“it was important to be productive”--than preparation for a future in agriculture.

The question of one day taking over the farm never seemed to come up. Instead, Matsumura’s parents issued frequent reminders about the importance of education. An excellent performance throughout her academic career confirms that this message was embraced.

An honor student in high school, Matsumura went on to the University of the Pacific in Stockton, where she played tennis and graduated cum laude in 1990. Her major was international business, but going on to business school was not appealing. The curriculum “wasn’t tangible enough.”

Law school, on the other hand, offered the chance to “learn how things get done.” “I was attracted to the logic of the law. Plus, when you need to know something, you can look it up,” Matsumura reflects. Her interest in estate planning was sparked by a lively class in property law. “The teacher was a little eccentric and he made the time memorable,” she says. “I always enjoyed the class and decided to practice in that area myself.” Matsumura went to King Hall School of Law at UC Davis and graduated in 1993.

The experiences she had traveling outside the United States reinforced her appreciation for the rule of law. In the mid-1990s Matsumura made several trips to Venezuela to visit a friend. At the time, the country was engulfed in political chaos. “We take things for granted here, but life is so unpredictable for so many people in this world,” she muses.

A tight job market after law school led her to a firm in Claremont that did insurance defense work. Although the field was not her first choice, “it was fun to live down south.” Matsumura stayed with same firm for a few years and then returned to northern California.

With her resume in general litigation, it was still a challenge to find a spot in estate planning. Instead, she enrolled in the Masters in Taxation program at Golden Gate University. Matsumura lived in Oakland, worked as an intern with the IRS in San Jose, and went to school in San Francisco at night. As usual, she breezed through her classes.

A year later, an LL.M. in taxation with honors in hand, Matsumura was offered a position with a specialty firm in Pleasanton. “I was very fortunate,” she remarks. “My former employer, who is still here, just a few blocks away, had been with a large accounting firm and was very good at running the small office. I learned good habits, like detailed note-taking, and had the opportunity to work with high net worth clients, exposure I wouldn’t have had otherwise.”

After eight years, she made the leap and opened her own practice.
It was a big decision, especially for someone who does not consider marketing to be one of her strengths. “I tend to avoid the spotlight,” she comments. Matsumura does enjoy being responsible for all aspects of her practice, managing her workload to have adequate time to spend with each client.

She has also cultivated the skills of connecting with fellow professionals and gaining referrals, revealing a favorite technique for mixers: pretending that the people there are guests in her own home. “You approach them, introduce yourself, and engage them in conversation. If you think of the setting as your living room, it is much more comfortable.”

A resident of Pleasanton, Matsumura finds community involvement another way to put down roots. Currently she is a board member of the Tri-Valley Estate Planning Council and serves on the Board of Directors of the Tri-Valley Community Foundation. She is also a veteran of the Leadership Pleasanton program, which has given her a solid tutorial in civics and the structure of local government. “It’s good to know how your own community functions,” she observes.

Ardent sports enthusiasts, Matsumura and her husband are always staying active. Introduced by mutual friends, they first got acquainted at a Sharks game. Their wedding took place in a luxury box at AT&T Park during a Giants game. This year, April Fool’s Day found them on the slopes snowboarding. Closer to home, their weekend activities include road cycling, paintball, archery, and go karting. 

They are also good spectators, traveling frequently to cheer on their favorite team, the Cal Bears. The Ohio State game, played in the historic Horseshoe stadium in Columbus this fall, is already on the couple’s calendar--another example of her organization and planning skills, Matsumura laughs. 

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