Fifteen years ago, before Joe and I got on a cruise vacation to celebrate our 10th anniversary, we visited an elderly lawyer, drafted, finalized and signed our living will.  He gave us two hard copies printed from a line printer that seemed so antiquated nowadays.

With the passing of time and addition of Jake, updating the will was one of the things on our to-do list.  I lost our lawyer’s contact information and couldn’t find him online.  So upon recommendation of our financial advisor, I gave Natalia from Kabbe Law Group a call and made an appointment a couple of months ago.  Jake was already six years old.

Natalia was very different from the first lawyer we saw.  She was enthusiastic, energetic and really took a personal interest in her clients’ lives and goals.  She spent more than two hours during our first meeting explaining to us the various legal changes that affected our health and money.

For one thing, Federal HIPAA privacy rules (2003) restrict the ability of your doctors to share your medical information.  There are now three must-have health care documents in order for the health-care professionals to share your information even with your closest ones: 1) Heath care Power of Attorney 2) Living Will 3) HIPPA authorization.

I always thought that now that our oldest daughter Jane was over eighteen, if anything happened to Joe and me, Jane would be able to take care of Jake temporarily.  Not so, unless we legally appoint her as one of the short-term guardians, Jake will be placed in a foster home.  I ended up choosing a friend as the first choice of short-term gurdians and she and Jake has been having play dates to get to know each other better.

Natalia also recommended that we should establish a living trust that offers additional control distributing an estate by avoiding probate.  She used a very appropriate metaphor: imagine you have accumulated a fleet of automobile in your lifetime, but you forget to build a garage.  By leaving the cars on the driveway, you expose them to thieves, bad weather and all kinds of other unexpected conditions.  The trust is like the garage that offers protection and stability to your assets.  Joe and I were advised to put everything including our small business under the umbrella of the trust.

Another piece of  useful information I’ve learned from Natalia was that each person is allowed a coupon of one million dollars that she or he can give to the children or loved ones tax free.   Let’s assume one spouse passes away, there is a choice of keeping everything under the same trust or allocate half of the asset under a second trust: a family trust.  There are three benefits to establishing a family trust: 1) If the surviving spouse remarries, he or she can make any changes to the first trust which contains half of the asset by adding or removing beneficiaries, but the surviving spouse can’t alter the family trust.  It has to remain the same as how the deceased and surviving spouses signed it.  2) By establishing the family trust, the deceased spouse won’t lose her million-dollar coupon.  So you as a couple can give two million dollars to your children or loved ones tax free instead of one million. 3) The family trust protects long-term care cost from biting into your children’s inheritance.

You may say to yourselves ”We don’t have two million dollars to give away.”  But things can add up quickly: your house, your savings, and remember your life insurance is also included.

Originally, we planned to come up with a basic level I plan that didn’t include the family trust, but eventually upgraded to a level II plan with the understanding of the enormous benefits of a family trust.

I almost called Natalia a couple of days before Joe and I were leaving for Banff to see if we could get together sooner to get this thing done (I knew it couldn’t be done in a few days).  Instead, I emailed my brother-in-law with everything he needed to know in case something would happen to us.

There are many aspects of life that we can’t control, but I feel good and at peace now that we are working on the parts that we do have some control over.