Posted by & filed under Asset Protection, Cyber Security.

Our Top 3 Cyber Security Do's and Don'ts for The Elderly

The internet can be an amazing resource for anybody, but it can also pose threats that never even occur to people. Stealing and threats used to be physical things with physical repercussions. However now with the internet, that is not always the case. Things can be stolen from people without them noticing, without them ever seeing it, and without them ever reclaiming and finding it again. These threats are pertinent to everyone who uses the internet, but more and more, scammers and thieves are targeting the older crowd; those who did not grow up with the evolution of the internet, but rather are using it in their golden years, with less gumption for learning all the new bells and whistles! In some ways, seniors who use the internet are more at risk. In order to help protect our more senior clients, we have compiled a list of simple Do’s and Don’ts so they will have all the benefits of the internet, without being scammed. How many of these do you practice regularly?

Make Strong Passwords

Passwords are one of the common weak points for any digital user. Using the same password over and over makes logging into sites easier, since there is less to remember. However, that also makes the user more prone to being hacked successfully. If the passwords are all the same. Using different passwords can be stressful for users, but developing a system for organizing them, creating new ones, and a few general tips can make password-protected accounts just that much safer. 

  • Passwords should always have a mix of upper and lowercase letters.
  • Passwords should always have at least one number. 
  • Passwords should have (if possible) a special symbol included.

Don’t Open Every Attachment Sent

A common pit fall for the more senior crowd are emails and their attachments. Opening every email that comes your inbox is a very unsafe habit, but more importantly, downloading anything that comes in any email is even more dangerous. If there is malware, a virus, or anything else embedded in the attachment, downloading it will put it directly in your harddrive. While it is not always possible to tell what will be spam, or an unwanted email, there are always a few tell-tale signs that should be remembered when opening emails. 

  • Does the email come from someone you know? If yes, does the previewed subject look like something they would normally send? If no, perhaps don’t open it and contact them and see if they sent something to you. 
  • Does the email ask for money? Even if it is from someone you know, asking for money over email and in general over the internet is a red flag to not proceed. 
  • Was the email sent to over 40 people? People who have their email accounts hacked will usually have the hacker use their saved contacts. Mass emails to everyone in their contact list is common, and even if you know the person, do not participate in whatever they are asking until you receive something from them that looks real. An example: I’m sorry everyone, I was hacked! Please disregard the last message I sent. 
  • Does the email contain the correct grammar and wording in your language? Even if this sounds stupid, hackers are not often from the same country or speak your language fluently. If the email is very confusing with garbled language, it might be a sign that the sender is not who you think it is. 

Don’t Download if You Don’t Have To

Following point number two, you should not download anything unless you have to, and you are familiar with the product you are downloading. For example, oftentimes there are prompts to download “malware protection” or “computer declutter” devices. However, these are often malware software themselves. Your computer has come with software to protect that device from external damage. Often times, downloading different types of protection software that has not been specifically designed for your device can be more hurtful than helpful. 

While these tips are nothing new, we hope that this shortlist will help enable seniors feel more secure when using the internet. The internet has become an integral part of daily life, and we see no reason why the older crowd should be nervous or hesitant to participate in using this tool. However, being careful is always a good thing, and we hope that these tips will allow you to feel at ease to join in on important conversations, stay in touch with family, and explore the world, one click at a time. 

What Should I Do Now?   

If you are planning to retire shortly or have yet to plan for retirement, The Law Offices of Joel A Harris, located in Concord, Walnut Creek, and Antioch are available to help you plan accordingly. Joel Harris is an attorney with over 25 years of experience and will take the time to help you plan for retirement, create a budget, document progress and provide useful reminders pertaining to your personal retirement plan. If you are not sure how to begin planning for retirement, feel free to visit us online, in person or by phone at (925) 757-4605. Our priority is your future success!



Posted by & filed under Asset Protection, Estate planning, Inheritance Tax, Living Trust, Retirement Planning, Secure Act.

What Will The SECURE Act Mean For My Retirement Plans?
What Will The SECURE Act Mean For My Retirement Plans?

What are your retirement plans? Have you thought about how you will pay for your housing situation? Have you reserved enough money for extra expenses? Will the retirement age change by the time you retire? All of these questions are valid and you should take them into consideration as you grow older. With policies changing regularly, it is critical to stay up-to-date to be prepared for any situation.

In 2019 the senate will decide whether they approve the changes for the current retirement requirements or if they will make any changes at all. With the House of Representatives already approving the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act (SECURE Art), the requirements for new retirement plans will change. If passed, you can expect some changes to be:

  • More part-time positions offering 401(K) plans
  • Contribution to traditional IRA’s (Individual Retirement Arrangements) for as long as desired
  • Penalty-free withdrawals for those who fall into specific groups/circumstances
  • The age for retirement to move from 70 ½ to 72 years of age
  • A requirement to withdraw from inherited retirement accounts within 10 years of retiring

Retirement should be an exciting time, away from confusing language and ever changing politics. For this reason, The Law Offices of Joel A. Harris works hard to provide you with information to make it easier for you to understand the new changes the SECURE Act brings. We are located in Concord, Walnut Creek and Antioch, to be most convenient to our clients. If you would like to visit us in person, by phone at (925) 757-4605 or via website, feel free to contact us and we will be more than happy to help!

What Changes Will I See?

There are quite a few changes that you can expect once the SECURE Act is passed and put into practice. Below are a few changes that you can expect and how you can prepare for them to better your retirement experience:

  • Part-Time 401(K) Options: There is currently a minimum number of hours worked in one year (~1000 hrs.) that decides if a worker is eligible for a 401(K) account. With the SECURE Act part-time workers will become eligible for a 401(K) account, so that they can start adding funds to their future income. If you would like to read more in detail about this change, go here.
  • Inclusion of Academic Income: At the moment, certain academic stipends and non-tuition aid are not treated as income for purposes of IRA contributions. With the SECURE Act in place, these kinds of aid and financial support will be included as a form of income. This means that higher taxes may be paid, but more money may be taken out when needed. If you would like to read more about this, check out this article
  • Removal Of Age Limit For Contributions: The SECURE Act would remove the current age (currently 70 ½ years old) restriction to contribute to a Traditional IRA. This change can be seen as a positive change since the age of retirement may change over time, which would affect the age restriction. If you would like to learn more about this, we recommend that you read this article.
  • Limitations on Tax-Advantages After Death: A benefit that was available to families in the past has been the inheritance of retirement funds. This option became popular in the 1960’s and can still be seen today. With the SECURE Act in place, family members who benefit from retirement inheritance may find themselves with stricter time limits on both the time it takes to withdraw the money, as well as how much can be withdrawn at one time. If you would like to read more, you can go here.
  • Penalty-Free Withdrawals for Birth or Adoption of Child: The changes to the SECURE Act would allow new parents, biological or adoptive, to take up to $5000 from their 401(K), IRA or other retirement accounts. This new change is beneficial for parents since there is also no limit as to how many times a future retiree can use this benefit. It is important to state that new parents should take into consideration their future retirement costs. If you would like to read more about penalty-free withdrawals,, read this article.

What Should I Do Now?

If you are planning to retire shortly or have yet to plan for retirement, The Law Offices of Joel A Harris, located in Concord, Walnut Creek, and Antioch are available to help you plan accordingly. Joel Harris is an attorney with nearly 30 years of experience in estate planning, trust and probate law. Joel works with expert tax and financial planners who can take the time to help you plan for retirement, create a budget, document progress and provide useful reminders pertaining to your personal retirement plan. If you are not sure how to begin planning for retirement, feel free to visit us online, in person or by phone at (925) 757-4605. Our priority is your future success!



Posted by & filed under Social Security Benefits.

4 Questions to Answer Before Taking Social Security

For many older people, social security benefits are their main source of income. For this reason social security is an important part of your retirement, and you should carefully consider when or how to accept those benefits. Below are some vital questions you should ask yourself before you accept social security. If you need more information and are in or near the areas of Concord, Walnut Creek, and Antioch, The Law Offices of Joel A. Harris is here to help!

1. When Should I File for Social Security Benefits?

There is really no specific answer to this as it depends on a person’s age, health, and finances. In general, though, the earliest age to file is 62 and filing early may not be such a bad idea. This accounts for why so many people retire early but simultaneously must rely on these benefits to be comfortable. Some people choose to work until 66 which can increase the social security payment, but many do not find the amount of extra work worthy of the benefits they receive. For this reason it is purely up to each person if they can afford to retire, how much money they need, and whether or not they are healthy enough or willing to continue working. If you choose to delay claiming your benefits until age 70, payments will increase by about 8 percent for each year you delay claiming Social Security up until age 70. After age 70, there is no additional benefit for waiting to sign up for Social Security. Finally if you have dependent children under age 19, you may be able to secure additional Social Security payments for them that could be worth up to one half of your full retirement benefit (certain limits may apply). Your CPA or financial advisor can help you make this important decision. If you do not have a good CPA or advisor, please contact us and we will be happy to refer you to someone we work with in your area.

2. How’s Your Health?

This is important to think about considering the average life expectancy is 79 years (I don’t think that is correct). For people who are not in the best of health, it may be best to start accepting benefits early and use them as long as possible. If you are otherwise healthy you may decide to continue working in order to keep your benefits waiting and use them only when absolutely necessary. If you expect to live past the average life expectancy, your best bet would be to retire later in order to get the most out of the program.

3. How Do I Receive my Benefits?

The AARP website gives a good answer to this question. Many people are confused about whether or not you can claim it online, in person, or through your bank account (direct deposit). In 2013, Social Security stopped mailing out their checks in order to slash delivery expenses. For this reason most people have their monthly payment directly deposited into their bank account. This is easy to set up and will save a lot of time. Another option is to get a debit card, where the benefits can be deposited and used like a credit card.

4. Can I Get Higher Benefits?

In order to get the most bang for your buck, you may be interested in additional or alternative benefits to your social security. This can be helpful to people who stopped paid work to instead volunteer or care for ailing family members. For example, those who were married for over 10 years may be eligible to some of their ex-spouse’s benefits. Survivor’s of a deceased spouse can elect to take the deceased’s larger social security benefit. Just be careful if you have a part-time job, because if those earnings, plus nontaxable interest and half of your Social Security benefit equals more than $25,000 for individuals or $32,000 for couples, up to 50 percent of your Social Security benefit could be taxable!

Lastly, we strongly encourage you to Create a My Social Security account and download your Social Security statement annually.  This will allow you to check that your earnings history and Social Security taxes paid have been recorded correctly by the Social Security Administration. You must do this to ensure you are getting credit for the taxes you’re paying into the system.

Are You Worried about Your End of Life Plan?

If you are not prepared with a current estate plan then your family could be vulnerable to higher tax bills, extensive legal fees, and familial conflicts. To avoid those obstacles you should visit an Estate Planning Attorney to get professional help, and create a plan that well suits your goals.
The Law Offices of Joel A Harris are located in the cities of Concord, Walnut Creek, and  Antioch, California.  We have worked for over 25 years giving the best guidance our clients need to protect their assets. Have a question about your planning your estate? Feel free to schedule a sit-down meeting where we are happy to patiently answer every question you may have. For your free consultation reach out to us at (925) 757-4605.