Rob Kutz, Esq. of Miller Walsh & Kutz will join Promise Law as a partner on September 1, 2019. I sat down with Rob to learn more about his personal history and career in the law.
Geneva: What first attracted you to law?
Rob: While in the Coast Guard I was assigned to the Investigations Department at a Marine Safety Office. In that position I brought Merchant Marine sailors and officers before an Administrative Law Judge when they were accused of misdeeds or negligence aboard ship. I found the work fascinating and the judge told me I had an aptitude for the law, so I decided to apply to the Coast Guard’s law postgraduate program.
Geneva: How did you become interested in elder law in particular?
Rob: After law school, I was assigned to the 5th District Legal Office in Portsmouth as “legal assistance officer” which mostly entailed doing wills and powers of attorney for active duty military members and spouses. I found I really enjoyed this kind of legal work (a lot more than criminal law!). Then I was assigned as Assistant Legal Officer at the Coast Guard Academy. In that assignment I did a lot more estate plans for retired Coast Guard officers and their spouses, and sometimes the widows of the officers. Again, I found I enjoyed working with retirees and the challenges their more complicated plans presented.
Then, in 1991 I founded Walsh & Kutz with Mike Walsh and our CPA suggested that since I liked estate planning I should look into this new-fangled area of the law called “elder law.” She said it was going to be a hot area of the law, especially once the Baby Boomers started to retire. Since elder law encompassed the two aspects of legal work I found most rewarding at the time—estate planning and working with retirees—it seemed a natural fit for me. So for the rest of the time I was in the Coast Guard I took as much continuing legal education as I could in the areas of estate planning and elder law. And the rest is history! I still love working with seniors and creating estate plans.
Geneva: How did you and your law partners meet?
Rob: When I accepted an offer to attend the Marshall-Wythe School of Law at William & Mary in 1983, my wife, Dale, and I joined “The Partners Club”, which was an affinity group for married law students (and other unmarried couples). We were assigned a mentor couple from the class ahead of us: Mike and Ann Walsh. We met them for the first time at a Partners Club barbeque a couple of weeks before our first year classes began and that was the start of a lifelong friendship. Since Mike stayed in Newport News after his graduation in 1985 and we were assigned to Portsmouth out of school in 1986, we saw each other at least weekly for six years.
Three years later, as I was starting to make plans for my post-Coast Guard career I asked Mike if he’d like to practice with me in a small firm atmosphere once I retired from the Coast Guard. He said yes, so we started Walsh & Kutz together in May 1991. He practiced essentially as a solo practitioner from then until my retirement in 2003, and during that time he office shared with Darrell Miller. I got to know Darrell and ultimately he, Mike and I decided to become partners in 2004, becoming Miller Walsh & Kutz. We practiced together as partners until Darrell’s untimely death from cancer at age 59 in 2013. With Mike retiring from his family law practice the opportunity developed for me to join Promise Law.
Geneva: Wow, that is a long, shared history! What does it mean to you to have had that type of professional experience with friends and colleagues?
First of all, I am extremely grateful for my 26 years’ service in the US Coast Guard. It’s a great organization that provides tremendous service to the American people. I believe the Coast Guard’s ethos of service to others, as well as my long-time background with the Boy Scouts of America (55+ years from Cub Scouting at age 8 to the present), which also is an organization with terrific values and heritage of service to others (“Do a Good Turn Daily”, “A Scout is Helpful” and “To help other people at all times”) fit well with what we do as elder law attorneys. We are focused on helping our clients and their families in some very trying times, and I believe my background has helped me in that regard. I see this as “a calling” and not just a job. Finally, I have enjoyed practicing with attorneys I also count as friends and to have been able to practice in a collegial, small firm atmosphere both inside and outside the Coast Guard.
Geneva: What do you find most rewarding in your legal work?
Rob: It is helping my clients get peace of mind knowing that their estate plans reflect their desires and not what some lawyer thinks should be their plan. I also enjoy building relationships with my estate planning clients that last for years. Just this week I met with a couple I’ve known since 1991 and who’ve been my estate planning clients since 2003. I appreciate the opportunity to get caught up with what’s happening in their lives and mine since the last time we met. This close, consistent relationship just wouldn’t happen in many other areas of law. It’s important and meaningful to me to have these connections with people.
Geneva: What’s the biggest thing you think folks misunderstand about your areas of practice?
Rob: With estate planning, I think one of the biggest misunderstandings folks have is that everyone has an estate and that even the smallest estates need to be planned for. The administration of a small estate can be just as challenging as that of a large one, and planning always makes things better. The other thing lots of people get wrong is trying to “do it myself.” A home-prepared will can be a true disaster costing thousands of dollars to repair after death. A related issue in estate planning is that people don’t seem to realize it is ten times cheaper to plan ahead by creating powers of attorney and advance medical directives than it is to go to court for a guardianship or conservatorship after incapacity has already struck. Besides, when planning ahead you get to decide who’ll be the ones to care for you, not the court!
With probate, people overlook that having court supervision isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes, it is really important to have a neutral third party (the Commissioner of Accounts) overseeing the work of the personal representative of the estate. Also, personal representatives tend to resist getting help because they think they can handle it, they don’t want to pay, etc. But in my experience it’s better to bring in a lawyer to help them do their job from the beginning. It’s easier and cheaper to have the assistance of a good probate lawyer from the start than it is to only hire the lawyer after things have gotten really messy.
Geneva: Do you mind sharing a bit about you and your family?
Rob: Not at all. I grew up in Avon, Connecticut. My father was manager of the Mail & Records Department of a large, national insurance company, and my mother was a medical secretary. I was the first person in my family to graduate from college. My undergraduate degree is in oceanography, with a focus on biological oceanography. But timing and budget cuts precluded oceanography as an option with the Coast Guard when I was applying to graduate school. That led me to change career paths to the law, which was a blessing in disguise.
I met Dale at an informal dance at the Academy in early September 1975. We got married ten days after I graduated in 1977. Dale grew up in Yorktown Heights which is at the northern edge of Westchester County above NYC. We have two boys, Ben and Stephen, who are fraternal twins.
Geneva: Ok. Time for a wacky fact. What have you done in the past that might surprise folks who know you?
Rob: While serving as a shipboard engineer on a Coast Guard cutter performing drug interdiction in the Caribbean we seized a ship full of marijuana (26.5 tons) that was a decommissioned Coast Guard Cutter built in 1927! Also, in February 1976, I appeared with the Coast Guard Academy Idlers singing group on Saturday Night Live in its very first season. I met all of the “Not Ready for Prime Time Players,” including Chevy Chase, John Belushi, Dan Ackroyd, Jane Curtin, Gilda Radner, Lorraine Newman, and Garrett Morris. And we backed up Actress Jill Clayburgh on the song “Sea Cruise.”
Geneva: What are you looking forward to in your work at Promise Law?
Rob: I am looking forward to continuing to do the work I’ve been doing for the past sixteen years with two other attorneys I like and respect who do the same type of work I do. I think it’s going to be a great, new experience to be in a small firm focused solely in the areas of estate planning, estate administration and elder law.
Geneva: We’re thrilled to have you join us!