Oct. 12, 2021

7: An Estate Lawyer Teaches Me Things

7: An Estate Lawyer Teaches Me Things

Have questions about estate planning? Listen in on my first conversation with an estate lawyer, Kathleen Hunt. I ask basic questions and learn so much!

Interview with Kathleen A. Hunt, UniqueLaw.com

Referenced in the episode:


 [KATHLEEN HUNT:] You think this is gonna be really hard and scary and bad, but it's not. And then it's one less thing for you to have on your “To Do Someday.” Just take that little bit of mental weight off. Because a lot of people who don't do it, avoid estate planning for two reasons: Either because they think it's going to be incredibly arduous to come up with all the data that the lawyer is going to ask for, or because we all engage in this sort of magical thinking. “If I don't say the word ‘death,’ it won't happen.”


Hello, and welcome to Dying Kindness, the podcast for people who are going to die someday. I'm Cianna Stewart, and I'm going to die someday. You will too. So let's all learn what we need to do and make some key decisions before we die, in order to be kinder to those we'll leave behind. I believe we should write these decisions down and collect them into one place, what I call a Death Binder. You can get a template for your own Death Binder and more at my website: DyingKindness.com. On behalf of the people who love you, I thank you for taking care of them by thinking ahead. And now, on with the show.

[music ends]

In 2020, I didn’t know much about estate planning (I still don’t know that much, but I’m learning!) A friend introduced me to Kathleen Hunt, an estate lawyer here in the San Francisco Bay Area. She agreed to chat with me on the phone. I started out by thinking I’d do a pre-interview for this podcast, but I quickly learned how much I didn’t know and really appreciated how she explained things. And so, today, I’m going to share our conversation. It’s not your typical interview. It’s a conversation. I learned a lot and I think you will, too.

Kathleen gave me a better understanding of Probate and why so many people try to avoid it. We talked generally about estate planning and about some things to watch out for, like, waiting too long. I finally get how a Trust can protect your assets from going through the Probate system. And I was a lot less freaked out after we talked about the costs and complexity of estate planning. 

Before we dive in, I just want to remind you that I’ll put links in the show notes at DyingKindness.com. Also, if you go back to Episode 3, I talk a little more about Wills there. I’ll be doing other single-topic episodes about so many of the things that Kathleen and I covered. If you think of any questions you want me to address, please go to DyingKindness.com to send me a note or a voicemail. I’ll do my best to get your questions answered.


OK let’s get started. I cut out the first part of our call where I described this podcast to Kathleen. I’ll pick up where we started to talk about my situation, one that you might be in, too.

[Cianna Stewart:] I'm 53. And I am, I am also a caretaker for my 82 year old aunt, who I'm now living with. And a lot of my friends are in, in a similar situation of taking care of their elderly relatives as well. And the conversations, you know, while people don't want to talk about their own estate planning, or Will or their own deaths in any way, that they do really want their parents to talk about it.

[Kathleen Hunt:] I do get a lot of those kinds of calls with people saying, “Yeah, you know, I need to do my estate planning, but later. First, I want to do something for my…” fill in the blank.

[CS:] Right. Right. I'm sure that that's often the first time that people are engaging with somebody like you to talk about it.

[KH:] Which honestly is, is unfortunate. Not only because that means that they're not getting their own stuff taken care of. But there's so little that I can do for someone who is calling for someone else. It's just it's unethical to make appointments or to do estate planning by proxy.

[CS:] Right. Right.

[KH:] And that’s so hard to understand for most folks.

[CS:] Yeah, they're like, “But I'm in charge of all these other things for them, and I can make medical appointments. But why can't I do this?” Yeah. Is there anything that you found that helps to, to get people in?

[KH:] Sometimes they understand that they can lead by example, that they can say to their elderly family member or family friend, “You know, you think this is gonna be really hard and scary and bad, but it's not. And then it's one less thing for you to have on your ‘To Do Someday.” 

[CS:] Right.

[KH:] Just take that little bit of mental weight off. Because a lot of people who don't do it, avoid estate planning for two reasons: Either, because they think it's going to be incredibly arduous to come up with all the data that the lawyer is going to ask for. Or because we all engage in this sort of magical thinking. “If I don't say the word ‘death,’ it won't happen.”

[CS:] Yeah. Well, so far, that hasn't been true for anybody.

[KH (laughing):] Not that we know of. 

[CS (laughing):] Not that we know of.

It had never been really clear to me who needed to do an estate plan. We always hear about how important it is to do a Will, but then some people talk about making a Trust. My Dad made a Trust and we still ended up in Probate Court, and I wasn’t clear why. I asked Kathleen about all of that.

[CS:] My father died in 2019. He had created a living trust, which was fantastic. And, you know, had assured me that he had done that, but then had neglected to put the condo into it, which is actually the only thing that he owned.

[KH:] Oh, no!

[CS:] I know! 

[KH:] It's just so frustrating to be that close.

[CS:] I know. It was so frustrating. And, and then I just found that there was like a basically so much chaos left behind. But then, as I was, realizing as I was getting mad at him, and I was driving home from LA, that, like if I got into a car accident, and I died that I was also leaving behind a mess, because I hadn't done my stuff either. So then I decided that I needed to take care of things for myself. So… um. I didn't think – because I don't own anything. I'm not married to anybody. And I don't have any children – that I was, like, “Oh, I could just do a regular Will.” Like, no big deal. But then, when I was reading on your blog, you said something about: You basically have to have your entire net worth needs to be less than 100k, and that's absolutely everything that you own sort of added together. That just took me by surprise, and made me rethink the idea of estate planning or involving a lawyer.

[KH:] Yeah, I think, I think that's pretty normal, that people think only rich people have to worry about this. And if you don't have an Estate with a capital E, you know, it's no big deal. It's going to go to your kids. It'll go to your spouse. Or you can just do a handwritten well, and it will go to whoever you want it to go to. And California is just not that way. If you own any real estate, it's going to be worth more than $166,000. Which is the current level. $166,250. And even if you don't, you have other assets. If you have bank accounts, you can name beneficiaries. But they usually only let you name two or three. So if you have five friends, they don't have that many spaces on the form. Right. And if it goes through probate, that's expensive.

[CS:] Yeah, we definitely encountered that. That it's expensive and it takes a long time.

[KH:] At least for a while, getting the first probate hearing – the very first hearing – in Los Angeles County was six months’ wait.

[CS:] I think, I think that's exactly what we went through. And, and then if we missed a document (which happened a couple times) then you're back into the queue for another long wait for the next hearing. 

[KH:] Mm-hmm.

[CS:] Yeah. It was infuriating.

[KH:] Oh, absolutely.

[CS:] Yeah. I think there's something about the word estate, that it definitely makes it feel like a rich thing. You know? And then it doesn't help that there's all these movies that, you know, it's like, “Oh, the big reading of the will” –

[KH laughs]

[CS:] – even for these complicated things that – OK, you're giggling. I have to hear more about your response to the movie tropes.

[KH (laughing):] My sister was so disappointed that there is no “reading of the Will” in California. She felt like, you know, she was let down by California legislators that they didn't make this happen.

[CS (laughing):] She wanted a big dramatic opening of the document and then…

[KH:] Exactly. I mean, I'm sure it wasn't meant personally to offend her. But, boy, she was mad at me when I told her that. “But it’s not my fault!” “Yes, it is! You’re the lawyer! Fix it!”

(Both laugh)

[CS:] Oh… And then you said that it's, that's the limit in California. Is it different state by state?

[KH:] Every state is different. Every state has their own rules. And it's my understanding that in some states probate is no big deal. 

[CS:] Oh.

[KH:] Which, of course, as a California lawyer, I think is so weird.

[CS:] Right? Right. But then there's people who, like, own things in different states. And that’s what – I was like, “Oh, my gosh, now what happens?”

[KH:] Yeah, then you have a probate in multiple estates – multiple states, excuse me – that has to be resolved. And it takes so much longer.

[CS:] Yeah.

[KH:] I've had meetings sometimes with, with clients who say, “Well, I have a house here, but I was left this part of a family house, in Maine or in Minnesota, wherever.” Like, “Okay, you have to understand if you don't do your estate planning, your heirs are going to go through not one, but two probate processes. They're not going to enjoy this. You need to do something.”

[CS:] Yeah, that sounds like an extra nightmare.

[KH:] Yeah. That's because you need different lawyers in each state, because lawyers only admitted to certain states, depending on where they took the bar exam.

[CS:] Your estate planning would end up including, like, whatever you had saved for retirement and stuff like that, too, right?

[KH:] Generally speaking, retirement accounts, you can't retitle them. They have to stay in your own name, because that's part of what the tax advantage that they offer is based on. 

[CS:] Right. 

[KH:] Right? That's based on an estimate of your lifespan, and a Trust doesn't have one. But if you have minor children, you don't want them to get control of those assets immediately. Because that's never a good idea. And so yeah, you look at different ways to establish Trusts, that allows the kids to have access when it's appropriate for them to have access and not until then.

[CS:] Right, right. Because otherwise… yeah. Like, my retirement accounts, allow me to name a beneficiary, but if I had kids that were underaged, they shouldn't be the beneficiaries right away. Is what you're saying. 

[KH:] Right. 

[CS:] That you'd want them to wait until some, you know, 18, or 21, or whatever it is that you decide.

[KH:] Most parents think 18 is too young. But yeah, if you name your kids on your beneficiary accounts (which is what most people do) – they name the spouse first, which is great, and then the names of kids – it's going to be frozen until the kid hits 18. And then at 18, they might choose to roll it over, or they might choose to cash it out and get a hot car.

[CS:] Right. (Laughs) Drop out of school.

[KH:] Yeah. So keeping it in Trust and managed for them until they're at a better age makes sense, but not messing up the tax advantage. So whether you name a regular revocable trust as a beneficiary or an IRA beneficiary trust… Those are all kind of fact dependent.

[CS:] Mm-hmm. I read –

[KH:] I never intended to be an estate planner when I went to law school. That was never the idea.

[CS:] Oh, really? What did you think that you were going to do?

[KH:] I'm a constitutional law junkie. 

[CS:] Oh!

[KH:] I wanted to be a First Amendment lawyer.

[CS:] Hm. Oh, yeah, I saw that you had done work with EFF and Anti-SLAPP and, and all of that. 

[KH:] Yeah. 

[CS:] So you were on a, on a trajectory towards defending First Amendment rights. So what was it about estate planning and this side of the law that pulled you in?

[KH:] I'm a single mom. And my son was three when I started law school. And at some point, in third year, I took – the very beginning of third year – I took a “Wills and Trusts” class. And I hadn't known any of that stuff before. Nothing. I was, uh, I was editor in chief of my law review. And I subjected my poor editors to… time after time I'd get on my little soapbox. “Oh my god! You have to protect your families! People don't know this stuff! Oh my god!” Finally, they got tired of me getting on my little soapbox. And they said, “Look, you have found your practice area. Please leave us alone and go do that.” Oh, okay.

(Both laugh)

[CS:] Do you remember any particular standout stories or something that, you know, horrified you to the point where you were like, “Oh, my God, this is… I have to go tell somebody about this.”

[KH:] Finding out about probate – which was not a word that had any particular meaning to me before – that was a surprise.

[CS:] Describe– Can you just take a moment and describe: What is probate?

[KH:] Probate is the court supervised process of first identifying and then distributing the assets and liabilities of someone who has died.

[CS:] And why would that horrify you?

[KH:] It is, as noted earlier, it is expensive. And it's time consuming. In Contra Costa County, which is the fastest in the nine county Bay Areas, my experience has been that an average uncontested probate runs 15 to 18 months.

[CS:] Wow.

[KH:] In San Francisco County, it seems that the average runs closer to 22 to 25 months. 

[CS:] Hm.

[KH:] You're closer to three years if you get down to Los Angeles County. And that's for not contesting. Nobody's arguing. Everybody's okay. It just takes a while.

[CS:] And during that entire time, the assets are frozen?

[KH:] Most of the assets are frozen. You can go through extra steps to get some money loose for a family that needs it. But nothing's supposed to be distributed until taxes are paid and creditors are paid and so forth. And just figuring out who those creditors might be is its own set of excitements. 

[CS:] Hm.

[KH:] When I was in that Wills and Trust class, there was a story about somebody who had handwritten a Will (“Story.” A case.) of somebody who had handwritten a Will, on the back of hotel stationery. Because they were at this hotel, and they thought, “You know what? I'm just gonna do it.” And they grab some hotel stationery out of the little desk. And they wrote out a Will. But the rules at that time for what's called a “holographic Will,” which is a handwritten Will, were very, very specific. It didn't have to be notarized. And it didn't have to be witnessed. But it did have to be 100% written out by hand. And because it was on hotel stationery, there was something on the paper that wasn't written by hand, and the Will was thrown out. 

[CS:] Oh, wow. 

[KH:] I was horrified. 

[CS:] Yeah! 

[KH:] This person had done everything they could think of to make sure that everything would be all right. And it didn't matter.

[CS:] For a very obvious technicality that was unrelated to the Will.

[KH:] Yes. Courts don't do that particular interpretation anymore. That one has been addressed. But I kept finding all these little landmines that – how would normal people know that they were issues?

[CS:] Yeah. I can't even imagine being… I mean, you just want somebody to like, “Okay, finally, you're writing your Will! That's amazing. That's fantastic.” And then just because this is the piece of paper at hand, it gets thrown out. And now even if that's addressed, like, what's the next thing that's going to be a weird thing that we couldn't predict that's going to get it thrown out?

[KH:] NOLO Press is a self help legal publisher that I'm really a fan of. They do so many things well.

I’m going to jump in quick to say that she’s talking about NOLO Press, N-O-L-O Press. I’ll put a link in the show notes. They are – well, she’s about to explain it. Um. They’re cool. I like them, too.

[KH:] They offer a product if you want to do your own estate planning. And it's a decent Will. It's not fabulous, but it's decent. And it's a fine Power of Attorney. And it's a terrible Trust. I mean, it's just terrible. And it's not because they write bad language. They've been doing this for decades. They know what they're doing. But California tries now to make a basic Will as easy as possible. They have something called the “Statutory Will,” where you just fill in the blanks. So, a do-it-yourself Will, that's not impossible, or even all that difficult to achieve. But a Trust is not designed to be simple. It's designed to be a contract that somebody enters into, and it's got all the complications that you would expect a contract to have. NOLO doesn't ask you nearly enough questions to be able to create that contract correctly, for anybody who might decide to use them.

[CS:] Well, that makes it sound like, uh, making a Trust is scary and complicated. And so why should people do it?

[KH:] Well, making a Trust is complicated for the lawyer. But that's the lawyer’s job. There's no reason it has to be complicated for the person talking to the lawyer. You know, it's my job to make sure that I put in the right tax phrases, and that I allow for the possibility of a child being born later, or I say, if they're born later too bad for them. That's, that's my job. That's what I'm supposed to be doing. But the big reason to do a Trust is that a Living Trust, a Revocable Living Trust takes effect while you're alive, so it doesn't trigger probate. The law says if you own assets with a gross fair market value of $166,250 or more at the time of your death, your estate, as the owner of those assets, must go through the court process of probate. And we've talked about why that's, that's no fun. We've just talked about the time. We haven't even gotten to how much it costs. 

[CS:] Right. Right. 

[KH:] But a Trust, a Trust is a legal entity. It's like setting up a company, and you're in charge of it. You transfer the ownership of your assets from yourself as a person, to yourself as the trustee of this Trust. So you're still in charge. You can still buy things and sell things and it doesn't change your life. But if something happens to you, the owner of the assets didn't die, because the owner is the Trust, and it's a legal entity. It cannot just die, so the requirement to go to court never gets triggered. Instead of taking two years or three years, it takes maybe six months. Instead of costing thousands and thousands of dollars. It costs a couple thousand, maybe. 

[CS:] Hm.

[KH:] An average, say $500,000 estate in California – which is to say if you own real estate, it's quite small, or it's in a less expensive area – if the gross value of your whole estate is only $500,000. The lawyer gets $13,000 off the top if it goes to probate. The bigger the estate, the more the lawyer gets paid. And this is somebody you've never met, probably. Whereas if you create a Trust, you spend maybe $2000 or $3000 up front, your heirs have an easier time of it, it's faster, and you have more control. Who wouldn't prefer that?

[CS:] Right. And you can choose your lawyer in advance because they're the ones setting up the Trust.

[KH:] Yeah, you work with somebody you like, not just whoever happens to be the person with the biggest Yellow Pages ad. All right, I know that's a dated phrase.

[CS (laughing):] Well, whichever’s banners pop up.

[KH:] There you go.

I’m going to interrupt here to reiterate a few things because this is the moment that really clarified things for me. The reason Trusts don’t end up in Probate Court is because Probate gets triggered when you die and Trusts are not people so they can’t die. Once you transfer ownership of your major assets to the Trust, they are not calculated into your total net worth so they don’t contribute to triggering the Probate threshold. And while, yes, it takes time and money to set up a Trust, it takes a lot less time and money than going through Probate Court. And – even more to the point of this entire podcast – you’re the one spending the time and money. And that will greatly ease the burden on your loved ones after you die.

[CS:] Uh… What's… Are there any risks with doing a Trust? Like, why – what's the downside?

[KH:] The biggest downside to doing a trust is the initial funding of it is a pain. Because, like I said, in order for it to work, it has to own things. So you have to make sure that your house is titled in the name of the Trust. And most of your accounts are going to be titled in the name of your Trust. That process of doing it? That part’s a drag. There's no getting around it. Nobody loves that. But it's a one time thing. Even if you update your trust, change it, alter every decision you've made, once you funded that trust, you never have to do it again, no matter how many times you might decide to change the document. So I think it's worth it. You know, spend two or three days dealing with the bank or the stockbroker, whomever. And then you’re done. You don't have to worry about it.

I’ve been talking with a lot of people who are concerned that their aging parents haven’t done any estate planning. Some people, like me, are dealing with elderly relatives who are starting to lose their memory or received an Alzheimer's diagnosis or have some other cognitive issues. I asked Kathleen about how people in that situation could help their relatives do estate planning and what they might need to watch out for – and when it might be too late to tackle an estate plan.

[KH:] So it is too late when the person lacks mental ability. I look for: “Does this person know what they want? Do they know what they have? Can they identify who their natural heirs are?” If they're saying, “I have five kids, but I want to leave everything to one of them?” Do they have a reason other than, “Well, that one says the other ones are bad kids.” But in terms of evaluating when people call me, I try to explain that I can't meet with a client in the same room with somebody else that they're not married to. They can't have their friend or other relative on the phone with them or in the room with them. I think a lot of people are worried that their person isn't going to be able to say what they want. But they have to, because if they're not saying what they want, then they're saying what you want. And that's not appropriate.

[CS:] Right, right.

[KH:] I gather there are a few attorneys who will meet with a client and their unmarried other person. I personally think that's unethical. There's no way for me to know whether there are signals happening between them that says, my theoretical client doesn't feel comfortable saying what they really think or feel because they don't want to hurt the feelings of the person that's with them, or they don't want to make them angry, or whatever it might be. And it doesn't mean that that person doesn't have the very best of intentions. It's that there's no way for me to know that. And if it were contested later, I want to be able to say, “No, I took every precaution to make sure I was doing what my client I had actually wanted.”

[CS:] Yeah, I was just imagining it's a little bit like, you don't want to have another person in there while you're going into therapy, either. If there's anything that's, that's potentially an emotional minefield, you want to be able to say what is really on your mind.

[KH:] That is exactly it. It's a really good analogy.

[CS:] So I'm imagining that there's a lot of older folks who have created a Will thinking that that would cover them for all the things. And now, you know, if they hear this, they would say, “Oh, well, it sounds like I need to have revocable living trust.” Is there a way that the Will is helpful in guiding that path? Or is that now just like, “Okay, that was a wasted effort.” Or…. Does it have anything to – a role to play in creating of the Trust?

[KH:] Absolutely! A Will tells the court what you wanted, what you want to have happen. So a Will is absolutely better than nothing. And if you then later create a Trust, if there's question about whether that person had capacity, you can look at the previous document and say, “But it's the same as it was before. Ethel always said everything should go to George. So it wasn't that as Ethel declined, George took over. It was, that's how it always was.” And so that can be really protective, when there's any imbalance – appearance of inequity – in a family.

[CS:] That makes so much sense. And that's very helpful. Because I, I expect that there's a number of people that are in that situation. So good to know, also that the effort that they made is not to waste. For sure. 

[KH:] Oh, no.

[CS:] Yeah. I mean, I always think that there's such value just in going through the process of even thinking through, “What is it that I have? And where should it go?” You know, we don't necessarily think in those terms, so clearly, very often. And I mean, everything… Like, do that now, because other people don't want to have to guess.

[KH:] Yeah. I run into a lot of people who are only trying to help their person. But it's so easy to slip into over-helping, I've had people turn up and say, “Well, this person wrote this Will… Well, actually, I wrote it for them, but I had them sign it.” And they think they're helping. And, really, they're giving me something that's completely fraudulent. But they don't know that. They didn't mean that to be. They were trying to help. The older you are in this society, the more you're likely to be perceived as, “You just can't. I'll do it for you.” And sometimes, that's great. You need somebody to do it for you. And sometimes it gets in the way of letting people express what they want themselves.

[CS:] Mm-hmm. And, I mean, which is, which is heartbreaking if they're getting talked over or pushed aside and, and not able to, you know, have their own will, their own, their own ideas and and desires put to the forefront just because somebody else is trying to be super helpful and stomping over them.

[KH:] I would say that absolutely everybody over the age of 18 should have at least two documents in place: An Advanced Healthcare Directive and a Power of Attorney for Finances. Anybody at any age can become incapacitated. When you're young, your your parents take care of it. But then there you are, you're 19, you're a legal adult, and something happens and you’re in the hospital. Who has the right to speak for you? It's not that clear. Suppose you have a romantic partner. That person has no legal rights. Suppose your parents don't agree on what the best thing is to do for you. Who decides? If you're lucky enough to know, you decide. And you do that by doing an Advanced Healthcare Directive. And the same thing with the finances so somebody can pay your bills so you don't get out of the hospital to find out that PG&E has cut your power off.

[CS:] Oh, man. Just imagining that. That's horrible.

[KH:] And those are easy documents that anybody can do for themselves. You don't need a lawyer for those things. NOLO press does a fine power of attorney. Most doctor’s offices will give you at least a basic Advanced Healthcare Directive kit. Those things are inexpensive, easy, not, uh, not a huge investment of either time or money. But they make such a difference in your life. I don't know if you happen to see it on my website. I have a page about how much it costs to do estate planning with me because I don't really like hiding the ball on that. But one of the things on that page is to do a Caregivers Authorization Affidavit. And it's in case of incapacity. Parents think, “If something happens to me, the person I've named as guardian in my Will is automatically going to take over.” But the Guardian only takes over when you're gone. If you're still alive, the only way for someone to become a guardian – to have legal rights to take care of your kid – is to be appointed a temporary Guardian by the court. Sure, they’re faster at doing that than they are doing most things, but it is still a court system. It takes a little while. And then, what? You have a child entering foster care or sitting in the police station because nobody's legally authorized to say, “Yes, set that broken arm. Yes, I'm going to take care of this child.” Nobody's authorized. And if anybody is disagreeing, everything is on hold. Nobody wants that. But people assume either, “Nothing will ever happen to me.” Or, “Oh, I have a guardian named. If I'm in the hospital, the guardian will take over.” It's not true.

[CS:] Because that only comes into play if you're actually gone. 

[KH:] Right. 

[CS:] Hm.

[KH:] Yeah, I realize that I'm straying somewhat from your subject matter, because incapacitated is not dying. But once you’re 18, there is no clear identification of “this is the person that is in charge.” There can be multiple people in the group that has theoretical authority. And if they don't agree, that's not great. And if the person that you're closest to isn't in that legal group, that's not great either. How many of us have family that has nothing to do with biology? We want to include them.

[CS:] Yeah. Especially if that chosen family is at odds with your biological family.

[KH:] Absolutely.

At this point, we started talking about the process of selecting a lawyer. I’ll summarize by saying that every estate lawyer I’ve spoken with has told me it’s important to interview a few people because it’s critical that you feel comfortable with them. You’ll be discussing extremely personal and potentially emotional issues with them. And if the circumstances of your life change, you probably need to call them again in the future to make adjustments to your estate plan. So you want someone that doesn’t make you dread calling them. Talking about this stuff is hard enough. Try to find someone who helps you feel ease about doing it.

[KH:] People are often surprised by how extremely emotional the process is for them, just thinking about the answers to pretty simple questions. Because nobody likes to think about it. And I cannot tell you how often I have left someone's home, I – pre-COVID, I saw people in their homes – and what I heard behind me, was, “Oh my god, I need a drink.” But then when it's done, it feels so good to just know that you have controlled what you want and made that happen. Personally, I think that when you choose a lawyer, it should have nothing to do with how much that lawyer costs. And I say that knowing that I'm in the bottom third when it comes to costs. But ideally, your attorney should be somebody that you feel comfortable with. You're going to be updating and coming back to this person (we hope) for a really long time as your life changes and the law changes. When something comes up, you don't want to think, “Oh God. I have to call the lawyer.” Because nobody's gonna do that. You want it to just be, “Oh, I'm gonna call this person. Great.”

Before we got off the phone, I asked Kathleen how long it usually takes to set up an estate plan.

[KH:] So for me, the first meeting is on the phone. I don't even have a camera on my desktop. I know, but I don't. So, I do the first meeting on on the phone. It usually lasts between 60 and 90 minutes. If at the end of that time, we decide, “Yes, we're going to go forward,” we set a second appointment, usually no more than two weeks later at which we're going to get together and sign everything. Start to Finish the process takes no more than two, three weeks, and you're done.

[CS:] That's amazing. It sounded like it would be so much more complicated and take so much longer than that.

[KH:] No, it's my job to deal with the complicated part. It's your job to think about the hard emotional stuff.

[CS:] That's great. And if somebody has done some of that pre work already writing their Will if it's not the first time that they've thought about it, then that can also help.

[KH:] Oh, it makes it so much easier. Yeah.

[CS:] Yeah. Fantastic. Well, we are at time and I surely appreciate all of this. This was fantastic. Thank you so much!

[KH:] Thank you so much for your time. Good afternoon.

[CS:] You too. Bye bye.


I hope you got as much out of that as I did. I learned so much in that one conversation! We discussed quite a few things, and I know I’m going to have to explore them more deeply in future episodes. If you’re thinking of questions now that you want me to find answers for, send me an email to dyingkindness@gmail.com. I would love to hear from you!


Thank you for joining me today. If you want to support my efforts to help people do death planning in advance, please tell someone about this show. Better yet, use the share button in your podcast player to send a link directly to this episode. Right now my focus is on letting people know about this show and word of mouth is really the best. Thanks!

Special thanks to Kathleen Hunt for talking with me. You can find her at uniquelaw.com. The theme music is by Blue Dot Sessions. Everything else was done by me. You can find the transcript and links at DyingKindness.com. Until next time, I’m Cianna Stewart, and I’m going to die someday - but hopefully, not before I answer your question.

[music ends]

Today’s death reading is “On the World” by Francis Quarles, from the anthology Death Poems, edited by Russ Kick.


The world’s an Inn; and I her guest.

I eat; I drink; I take my rest.

My hostess, nature, does deny me

Nothing, wherewith she can supply me;

Where, having stayed a while, I pay

Her lavish bills, and go my way.


Kathleen HuntProfile Photo

Kathleen Hunt

Attorney & Counsellor at Law

Kathleen Hunt was born in New York City, but she relocated to California at a young age. Some years later, she obtained a B.A. in English from the University of California, Berkeley, and a M.S. in Education from California State University, Hayward. She received her law degree, with a concentration in civil litigation, from the University of California, Hastings College of Law.

During her time at Hastings, Kathleen served as Editor-in Chief of the Hastings Communication and Entertainment Law Journal, as well as a Director of the Civic Center Child Care Corporation. She has worked for such diverse bodies as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and the California Anti-Slapp Project, among others. Kathleen has previously been Of Counsel to Synaesthetic Pictures, a philanthropic community film organization dedicated to putting filmmakers and orchestral musicians together to focus on creative works.

Kathleen is currently a member of the Contra County Bar Association, as well as the State Board of California. She has served on the Board of several nonprofit organizations, including the Center for Sex and Culture in San Francisco, the Feilding Foundation, and the El Cerrito Rotary Club. As a Notary Public, she is also able to provide convenient authentication services for all her clients. Her publication credits include a guide to alternative dispute resolution, distributed to all federal judges in the Ninth Circuit; a national guide to the treatment of evolution and creationism in public schools; and essays published in such diverse locations as Gay.com and Contra Costa Marketplace.