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Objects of Obsession

From prized bottles of wine to vintage wheels, Allie Petrova advises on high-value collections

Published in 2021 North Carolina Super Lawyers magazine

As children, Allie Petrova and her brother would gather around when their father added another stamp or coin to his collections. She knew skin oils could oxidize coins, and she learned about the fragility of stamps, recalling how her father would say, “Hold your breath for a moment” when he placed one in an album. 

“I know the special care that goes into collecting,” says Petrova, who was particularly taken with one of her father’s ancient Thracian coins. “It was fun to hear the stories behind each piece. It’s rewarding when you find something truly rare.”

So it’s fitting that Petrova, who focuses on tax, business and M&A transactions, also advises people with high-value collections, no matter if the objects of their obsessions are cars, wine, paintings, memorabilia or porcelain. She helps with tax and succession planning; prepares, drafts or negotiates contracts related to buying or selling and secures loans using collections as collateral. She stresses the importance of establishing a collectible’s authenticity and provenance—like she was asked to do for a client who thought he had an original of the U.S. Constitution. (Spoiler alert: It was fake.)

Building this aspect of her practice has helped Petrova acquire her own collection. Of experts, that is, especially in the fields of collection management, valuations and insurance.

Born in Bulgaria, Petrova, whose family settled in North Carolina, grew up painting, drawing and sculpting. At one point, she considered becoming an architect. 

“I’ve always been connected to the arts scene,” she says. “I like it. But mostly, I appreciate it.”

After she earned her undergraduate degree at Greensboro College, Petrova frequented the North Carolina Museum of Art and served on its Contemporaries Board. “I loved when they hosted the Monet collection,” she says. She also took advantage of the Smithsonian’s offerings while studying for her law degree at the Georgetown University Law Center. But she cites the Musée Rodin in Paris as her favorite place to linger. “Rodin’s work is so captivating and meaningful,” she says.

While at another firm, Petrova realized she wanted more. “I wanted to be more flexible and more responsive to clients’ needs, not driven by billable hours,” she says. 

So she ventured out on her own.

“I had a strong desire to incorporate [art] in my practice,” she says. “I tend to do well with people in the creative space. I can work with dealers and I understand their business.”

The door to the world of collectors opened when a client told Petrova about his classic car collection. She immediately thought of the tax implications of such an assembly of goods, and helped her client work through them. The U.S. tax code specifically defines what a collectible is. While some items may seem obvious, including art, antiques, wine, coins and stamps, other lesser known rare and valuable items like rugs, musical instruments and historic documents, might also be considered collectibles. 

“There are certain things that are obvious, and then there’s a gray area,” she says. “For the borderline items, you need to take an inventory and figure out what could be challenged by the IRS and what has market value.”

Petrova says most of her clients are savvy and sophisticated, looking to maintain or grow a collection. She rarely meets someone just starting out, but she does have advice for those who migt think it’s a good day to start building a nest egg with Star Wars figurines.

“Warren Buffett said: ‘You need to invest in something you understand,’” she says. “If you [collect] for that reason, you still have to do your due diligence, but a deeper understanding leads to deeper appreciation.”

While Petrova doesn’t call herself a collector, she has acquired a handful of display-worthy items. Her faves include an Eastman Kodak camera from the early 20th Century and abstract contemporary art. She admires vintage cars, too. “They just really wow me, because they show the progress we’ve made with technology.” 

Whatever the collection, all connoisseurs have one thing in common, according to Petrova.

“Collecting takes passion,” she says. “It’s the thrill, the fun, of having something rare or very rare. The thrill of looking for it, finding it, and then owning it.”

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