Posted by & filed under Blended Families, Estate planning, Second Marriage, Secret Families.

Estate Planning for Second Marriages, Blended Families & Secret FamiliesSecond marriages and blended families present their own issues when it comes to estate planning. You would like to take care of your spouse and your children, but letting them work it out after you are gone is a recipe for disaster. Once you have been through a divorce, you understand that “happily ever after” isn’t always. Fortunately, estate planning that takes into account your unique family situation can alleviate most of your concerns, allowing you to freely pursue your second chance at happily ever after.


Are You Asking Yourself “How can I make sure my assets are distributed correctly?”


  • Clear the Air


When it comes to estate planning for a blended family, the concept of “yours, mine and ours” can complicate the process to the point that family dynamics become permanently strained. According to Forbes, Such situations require advance wealth planning with clear goals. “The biggest issue in blended families is, ‘where does my money go when I die?'” The first step is to have an honest conversation with your new spouse about your existing finances, goals for the future and how you expect your assets to be distributed. These conversations can be difficult and emotionally-charged, but they will reap innumerable rewards in the long run. If your children are adults, you may also want to include them in these discussions so that everyone knows what to expect. Huffington Post suggests consulting with an estate planning attorney prior to remarriage to assess your options. But, if you have said “I do” again, it is not too late! The most important thing is to do something. Don’t let the state determine how your assets will be distributed.


  • Update Beneficiary Designations


“One of the biggest mistakes people make when determining who will inherit their assets is in the beneficiary designations on retirement accounts and insurance policies,” said Ranzau. “The best-laid estate plan can be destroyed by an incorrect beneficiary designation.” That’s because beneficiary designations trump everything else, RBC Wealth Management noted. Regardless of what a will or trust says, the asset goes directly to the primary beneficiary or beneficiaries. Another error occurs when a spouse names the current spouse as primary beneficiary and the children as equal contingent beneficiaries, believing that everyone will get something. In truth, the primary beneficiary receives all the assets in this situation and will be free to act as he or she wishes. If your estate plan is written correctly, you’ll have no problem distributing your assets.


  • Secure your Assets


The biggest concern in second marriages is ensuring that each spouse’s share of the estate ultimately ends up with his or her desired beneficiary. That is, if each spouse has children from other relationships, those children’s inheritance is protected even if their parent is the first spouse to die. Traditional estate planning distributes an estate to the spouse and then the children. But, after the first spouse dies, the surviving spouse can easily amend the documents to disinherit whomever he or she chooses—including the deceased spouse’s children! If one of you brings significant assets to the marriage, it may make sense to prepare a separate property trust, before you get married to ensure that those assets ultimately end up with your chosen beneficiaries, suggests Huffington Post


Are You Ready to Have Peace of Mind About Who Receives Your Assets?

Every blended family is different and each presents its own set of challenges, both legal and personal, but a trusted attorney like The Law Offices of Joel A Harris can help guide you through the process catered to your individual needs. Throughout the process, we explain everything and patiently answer every question you may have. Since 1993, The Law Offices of Joel A Harris has worked tirelessly to assure individuals receive the most beneficial Estate Trust Plan for their loved ones. We love providing peace of mind! Feel free to reach out to us at (925)757-4605.



Posted by & filed under Estate planning, Retirement Planning, taxes.

California May Soon Require Employers To Offer Retirement Benefits To Their Private-Sector EmployeesBy Special Guest Nick Gizzarelli, CPFA, QPA, QKA

The Golden State has finalized regulations for the implementation of a state-run automatic Roth IRA plan, becoming the third state to create an auto-IRA program for the private-sector.

Recently renamed CalSavers (formerly California Secure Choice), this program will require employers with five or more workers to either offer an employer-sponsored retirement plan or enroll their staff in the state-run program. Scheduled to take effect by the end of 2018, CalSavers will grant 12 months for businesses with 100 or more employees to comply, and will gradually phase in smaller businesses over the subsequent two years.


“Regardless of socioeconomic status, the hard-working people of California who have made our state a global economic powerhouse deserve a measure of financial security in their golden years,” said Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, who authored the legislation designed to introduce a retirement savings program to the 7.5 million Californians not covered by an employer-sponsored plan.

The Role of the Employer

As written, the regulation will require employers with at least five employees and who do not offer an employer-sponsored plan to setup automatic IRA payroll deductions for both part-time and full-time employees within 30 days. Only employees working in California will be eligible for the program. Employers must determine if and when CalSavers will impact their business and register with the state by the deadline. For employers wanting to opt-out of the state-run program, they will want to adopt an employer-sponsored retirement plan before the same deadline.

Employers will be responsible for identifying eligible employees, distributing required notices, setting up automatic payroll deductions, and transmitting the funds to CalSavers. Penalties and fees will apply for failure to enroll eligible workers or properly execute the employer’s administrative duties.

Because CalSavers is a state-run Roth IRA program, some employees may not be eligible to contribute as eligibility to participate in a Roth IRA is based on an individual’s adjusted gross income. It is unclear whether the employer or individual will be responsible for determining whether or not the worker is eligible to participate in a Roth IRA.

The plan will not allow the employer to make discretionary or employer matching contributions. Only employee IRA deductions will be allowed.


Who Pays for the Plan?

CalSavers is intended to be self-sustained, funded by fees deducted from employee account balances. California will not impose any direct fees to the employer during or after registration, however third party vendors, such as banks or payroll companies may impose fees to setup the deductions and funds transfer to the state.

When determining the financial impact on a business, the employer should carefully consider how to allocate internal resources to comply with the new regulation. While technically not considered an employer-sponsored plan, the employer will still be responsible for many of the ministerial functions related to enrollment, contributions, and employee communications. Failure to fulfill these duties may result in penalties or fees to the business.


No Qualified Plan, No Federal Tax Credit

Because CalSavers is not an employer-sponsored plan, the employer will not be eligible for the retirement plans startup costs tax credit, which reimburses employers for a portion of the costs related to implementing a new retirement plan. Currently, employers who setup a new employer-sponsored plan are eligible to receive tax credits of up to $1,500 to offset implementation and administrative fees.


Employers Have Options

California has started the countdown for businesses who do not yet offer retirement benefits for their staff. Employers scrambling to meet this deadline, should carefully research all available retirement options. Undoubtedly, more details about CalSavers will become available as we near the expected rollout date.

Keep informed by visiting or by contacting Nick Gizzarelli at


Nick Gizzarelli-California May Soon Require Employers To Offer Retirement Benefits To Their Private-Sector EmployeesAbout Nick Gizzarelli, CPFA, QPA, QKA

Nick Gizzarelli is a Retirement Plan Specialist at Thomas Doll, an employer-sponsored retirement provider located in Walnut Creek, CA. Nick and his team have worked for over three decades to bring Fortune 100 level retirement plan services to the small- and mid-employer space. Nick is a current member of the American Retirement Association and National Association of Plan Advisors, as well as former member of the National Institute of Pension Administrators.

Posted by & filed under Estate planning, Pet Trust, Trusts.

A pet trust is a legally sanctioned arrangement providing for the care and maintenance of one or more companion pets in the event of a grantor’s disability or death. The “grantor” (also called a settlor or trustor in some states) is the person who creates the trust, which may take effect during a person’s lifetime or at their passing. Typically, a trustee will hold property (cash, for example) “in trust” for the benefit of the grantor’s pets.  Payments to a designated caregiver(s) will be made on a regular basis. (ASPCA)

Are You Asking Yourself “How Can Care be Provided to My Pet When I No Longer Can?”


Thinking Ahead


It’s never pleasant to think about one’s own passing or catastrophic health problems, but the only way to ensure your animal’s future is to make arrangements before tragedy strikes. Cats and dogs can live up to 20 years or more so depending on your own age, your companion could outlive you. Even if you’re young, you could still fall victim to an accident or illness. In the U.S., animals can be fully protected in one of two ways: a “Pet Trust” or a “Companion Animal Trust.” While there are other options, (Pet trusts in California are typically included in your living trust) AnimalWellness recommends these are the best options for your pet. Both go into effect immediately upon your passing or disability and ensure that your companion will receive proper care for the remainder of their days.


Choosing Your Plan


There are many ways to assure yourself that your animal will receive the appropriate care after your death. One option, like a will, are not recommended due to many inherent problems. AmericanBar provides a detailed list on why to avoid a will for your pet’s care. Instead consider a Pet Trust or Companion Animal Trust; they are better suited because of the ability to contain all the relevant options for your fur-baby’s care. It’s a simple, legally binding document that covers everything from naming a guardian to the pet’s day-to-day routine, to what funding will be provided, and they’re valid in all 50 states. According to AnimalWellnes, The Companion Animal Trust  kicks in immediately when you find yourself unable to care for your pet because of death, injury or illness. There is no waiting period or court involvement.


Approaching the Trust Like a Love Letter


Think of the trust as a document of affection and protection. So consider your pet’s daily routines, favorite treats and personal history. Many ideas for the specifics of a pet trust will spring from your close knowledge of your pet. These details in turn, can help establish an adequate level of care. According to VetStreet, by describing the specifics of your current pets, you can also cover the needs of other pets that you might have in the future. The wording should read, ‘This is the standard of care that I want for my animal.’ The emotion you bring to it, the way you treat your animals now, can be the same for later pets. The next time that you’re going through the motions — feeding your cats, taking your dogs for a walk — make a precise list of what you’re doing. What time do your dogs usually go to the park? Does your cat get a specific brand of treats? Do you scratch their ears when they lie down for a nap? Whatever may be second nature to you could be helpful information for a future caregiver.


Are You Ready To Assure Your Companion Receives Appropriate Care For Life?

Lifetime care planning for pets doesn’t have to be complicated, expensive, or overwhelming. That’s why at  The Law Offices of Joel A Harris, we offer the best guidance for animal trusts catered to your individual needs. Throughout the process, we explain everything and patiently answer every question you may have. Since 1993, The Law Offices of Joel A Harris has worked tirelessly to assure individuals receive the most beneficial Animal Trusts for their companions. We love our pets too! Feel free to reach out to us at (925)757-4605.



  1. Animal Wellness, Barbara Nefer
  2. ASPCA
  3. American Bar, Rachel Hirschfeld
  4. LifeHacker, Dave Greenbaum
  5. vetStreet, Jennifer Paull
  6. Whole Dog Journal, CJ Puotinen