Author Archives: Mary Piasta


Estate Planning for Digital Assets

cell-phone-in-hand As our world becomes increasingly digitized, when we die, we leave an expansive digital footprint.  For many, this footprint includes assets, intellectual property and other information such as copyrights, photos, pictures, messages, digital currenc(ies), passwords and more.  An ever increasing question is who has access to these things after we leave the planet.

In this situation as in many others, the law often lags behind the issues of the day.   This leaves individuals, including estate planners and professional fiduciaries with the question of how to counsel clients as to assets both now and in the future.  Presently, the California Probate … Read More

kal-visuals happy life

HVP New Approach to Legal Services Initiative

kal-visuals happy lifeThis year we are focused on some new ideas to be more present in your lives, combining roots in the community with our deep-seated understanding of how real live translates into your legal needs.

Here are some of the ideas we’re working on to enhance our legal counsel for the families and small businesses upon which Sonoma is based, and for those among us who need our help.

  1. TechForward Sonoma—stay tuned for video featuring an online Sonoma History Tour
  2. CarePartners Initiative—elevating elder care and support
  3. Sonoma History and Local Artist Retrospective—open-door office visits for a glimpse of Sonoma history
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HVP femme project

Femme Project

HVP femme projectResults-driven representation in key areas of law including issues impacting women

There has never been a better time in history to be a woman, yet women still face a daunting array of challenges, especially when it comes to legal issues. We work hard to make our services accessible to those who need us most.

The Femme Project draws together professionals committed to exceptional client service, focused on those who serve the unique needs of women or those who identify as them. Collectively, we leverage our deep trench of resources for women whether it is in finance, tax, real estate, banking, … Read More

AB 5 – Independent Contractors

In 2020, AB 5 was a big topic of discussion as it narrowed the appropriate use of independent contractors.  This year there are two legal actions that loosen the corset of AB5. 

AB2257 and PROP 22 exempted app-based delivery and transport companies if certain things are met.  AB 2257 recasts and clarifies various exemptions including but not limited to: 

  • Business to business referral agency
  • Professional services
  • music 
  • Journalists
  • Copyeditors
  • All sorts of creatives
  • Appraisers, insurance underwriters
  • Landscape architects
  • Consulting 
  • International exchange programs
  • Animal services
  • Something I need desperately – salon services. . . 
  • “specialized consulting services”

The above are all Read More

3 Step Approach to COVID Notice Requirements 

Under the new law, AB 685 if an employer receives notice of a “potential exposure to COVID-19” the employer must provide various notices.  There is a three-step process for doing so. 

Step One – Within one business day, an employer must provide notice to employees, employers of subcontracted employees, and representatives of them that includes all of the following.  

  • The notice must be given to all of those who were on the premises at the same “worksite” as the “qualifying individual” within the infectious period. 
  • the Notice must comply with Cal OSHA Form 300 Injury & Illness Log
  • Notice to
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Buy-Sell Agreements

Buy-Sell Agreements

HVP Law has more and more clients looking to transition their businesses whether they are new or even legacy businesses. Other times circumstances dictate the need for a

business transition like death, divorce, or bankruptcy. In either case as it may be understanding the circumstances for the sale is an important driver to dictate various terms. Of course, clarity in dealings of this nature can add to peace of mind. A short list of considerations is as follows:

Goals – consider the end goals of the sale. Is it tax minimization, liability transfer, a life change? Keeping an eye on … Read More

Biden Presidency Estate Plan Forecast

The current 2020 unified federal estate and gift tax lifetime exemption amount is $11.58 million.  This amount is scheduled to increase with inflation through December of 2025, at which point it reverts back to the 2017 level of $5 million.

The Biden team is just beginning to look into ways to capture some of the stratospheric increases in wealth during the last few years.  As of today they include the elimination of step-up in basis for inherited assets and being even more aggressive than the sun set provisions, lowering the exemption amounts to 2009 of $3.5 million for estates and … Read More

State of the Economy

California is facing some interesting hurdles right now, even outside of the recent wave

of COVID-19 and threat of forest fires. Rising commercial office space vacancies, small businesses closing down, and record unemployment and poverty numbers are, however, facing every state in the Union.

The uniqueness of California comes from its position to recover from the economic fallout. As one of the largest economies in the world, California has the tools, population and culture to rebound quickly and thoroughly.

Property values have remained high, even continuing to increase in suburbs and areas outside of the city centers. California’s state government … Read More

Buy-Sell Agreements

New Year – Legal Checkup

Buy-Sell Agreements

As we enter the new year, it’s a good time to do what HVP Law calls a legal checkup. This is a yearly review of your needs for your life, businesses and estate.

For the estate planning side of things, we like to review the status of things through the year to ensure your wishes are properly recorded in your documents. Have there been any changes in your holdings? Did you move? Are there new family members? Are there any new desires for decision makers? Are your beneficiaries current?

For the business side of things, it is prudent to do … Read More

Three Cheers for PPP

The December relief package created a second draw for businesses that have exhausted their PPP.  This PPP list includes an Expanded List of Expenses Qualifying for Forgiveness.  The list of expenses that PPP funds can be used for that qualify for loan forgiveness has been expanded to include: 

  • “operations expenses” defined as payments for business software and cloud computing services and other human resources and accounting needs that facilitate business operations; 
  • “supplier costs” defined as payments to a supplier for goods that are essential to the operations of the borrower pursuant to a contract or purchase order in effect before
Read More
Prop 19_family home

Hot Estate Planning Issue: CA Prop 19

Prop 19_family home

HVP Law Offices

Were you planning to leave your primary residence or other property to your children or grandchildren in your living trust or will? Proposition 19, which recently passed by 51% on the November ballot, is changing the reassessment exclusion between parents and children as we know it.

You need to make some important decisions quickly.. If you act now, you can transfer property to your children without triggering a reassessment. You can transfer a primary residence of any market value as long as the assessed value is … Read More

The Stock Market don’t give a S**t about your Politics – or Does it??

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How California Law Helps Seniors Avoid the Scenario in the Netflix movie, I Care A Lot

An upcoming Seminar on April 16 at Vintage House.

This complimentary seminar features Anthony Valluzzo, a partner at the Sonoma law firm of Haeuser, Valluzzo & Piasta LLP. Tony draws on a wealth of estate planning experience to craft solid legal strategies that provide peace of mind for life and after. While not as chilling as the movie version, Tony will provide an overview of California law addressing court-appointed conservatorships, outlining the estate planning tools that can ensure your welfare stays out of the hands of the courts. He will discuss how to empower those you trust to make decisions … Read More

A Message from Sonoma Brain Trust

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Securing Your Digital Property and Passing it Along

intel-propIn this day and age of websites, blogs, coaching programs and such, if you own a business that has these things, if something were to happen to you, what would happen to these things?

These sort of things are what is referred to as ‘intellectual properties’ and if you have a will or estate plan that includes directives for your business you might think more about protecting these aspects to your business or endeavor.

Under the law, in the broadest sense an intellectual property is an abstract item such a concept, ideas or formula and so on. To protect things … Read More


Important Documents for College Students Leaving for College

important-documents-for-college-studentsNo doubt many parents are wishing that colleges these days would decrease tuition as online curriculums for fall classes commence. Yet in this time of COVID-19, here are some important things to reckon with as you prepare to send your 18-to-19 year- old to college.

Your car insurance policy might have your daughter or son listed as a dependent. Even so, currently in the eyes of the law your 18 to 19-year-old college bound student is considered an adult.

What that means is that you as parent must be extra prepared to manage through a potentially difficult bureaucratic labyrinth of … Read More


AB5 and UBER

Uber_logo_2018This past summer the State Supreme Court drummed in again to Uber & Lyft that ride-share companies like themselves must be in compliance of CA State Law AB 5, meaning that they must classify their drivers as employees.

Uber and Lyft are the largest ride-share companies that use app-platform technologies to conduct business. In fact, as noted by the San Francisco Chronicle, Uber is proceeding to buy Postmates, a food delivery app that is similar to DoorDash and GrubHub for over $2 billion in stocks.

Some experts note that Uber and such companies have been able to operate and be … Read More

name change

Name Changes & Legality

Recently as marriage equality and identity classifications have been critiqued more closely by the LGBTQ community, here’s some info about name changes.

Basically it’s not that difficult.

Anybody can change their name legally. Just make sure it is not to commit fraud or make a false identity.

The simplest and most common is when people marry.

Today’s customs and attitudes about marriage lets women keep a “maiden name” or allows for a hyphenated name.

Hyphenated names are used in England. Historically, it has been part of the class or caste-system in English society. Hyphenated names were passed down as a … Read More


Beginner’s Guide to Bankruptcy

by Mary Piasta

bankruptcyWhen we talk of asset protection, many think of bankruptcy.  But there is a social norm with this type of word preventing many from considering it seriously.  The truth is that many very wealthy individuals in our country are not so dissuaded and utilize filing for bankruptcy as a means to preserve wealth.

For example, one entrepreneur went through bankruptcy four times in his life and left a legacy including a private foundation.  For others it means wiping the slate clean to rebuild their wealth.

Historically speaking bankruptcy was a way to depart from the English precedent … Read More

Collecting on A Letter of Credit to Circumvent Bankruptcy

bankruptcyBusinesses should be wary of language in contracts. Attempting to promise that amounts of money borrowed in particular could read in a phrase such as… “shall be payable without regard to the existence or notice of existence of any dispute, litigation, bankruptcy, or arbitration. Unless, the issuer is prevented from doing so by a court of competent jurisdiction.”  These types of clauses run directly afoul of the automatic bankruptcy stay.

Referred to simply as an LC, this is something that is typically furnished by a bank. Often companies will obtain a letter of credit that by their nature states it … Read More

Blended Families

by Mary Piasta

people on the beach watching sunsetLegal Strategies for Blended Families

Estate planning can be a simple, positive experience or a tedious, complex one.  Much of whether it is one versus the other involves whether the client has been married or had a domestic partner that they separated from.  It becomes even more of the latter when the client remarries, especially more than once.

The first series of questions needed from such a client pertain to the terms of their dissolution agreement, and if a prenuptial agreement was entered into for the prior relationship, as well as the latest.  Conditions such as alimony, … Read More

Why Relying on Another to “Take Care of You” Is Garbage, Especially for Women

grandmother and grandchildby Mary Piasta

While estate planning benefits all individuals regardless of gender, there are reasons why estate planning has different importance to women.

Factors both economic and cultural play a part in this discriminatory unequal treatment of women according to Haeuser, Valluzzo & Piasta LLP, Partner Mary Piasta who heard from Betsy Butler, the current Executive Director of the California Women’s Law Center. A former state Assembly member, Ms. Butler explained that statistics paint a picture of why women need estate planning.

In general, women are more likely to be poor in old age than men. Nearly two-thirds of people … Read More

Business Strategies During Changing Times

playing chessBy Mary Piasta

As states and municipalities are taking initiatives on their own, regardless of Federal intervention, business closure orders are nothing new right now. But as this is the second time this has happened in our county, there are now many examples of how businesses have pivoted to modify their operations to stay open during this time.

Before we get to that, the recent closure order requires high-risk businesses to close.  The lists of businesses included are salons, theaters, wineries and indoor-dining.

Indoor service is the theme here.  If businesses are able to offer services outside, then there are … Read More

People are People

rainbow flagby Mary Piasta

Our firm stance is that people are people and that in general estate planning is the same for all families.

Dying without a will or trust, or even a poorly written one also means it is subject to attack through consternation rules.  For LGBTQ people, especially this means that someone who does not like where you are leaving property can protest for various reasons. (For example, they were forgotten, they have the right to property, etc.).

An estate planning consultation always in California begins with issues of legality of marriage, parenting rights and property rights.  While the … Read More

Will My Stepchildren Inherit?

will my step children inheritby Mary Piasta

Sometimes folks come in with specific questions about their estate plans. One such question is whether their step-children will inherit? As with any question, the answer depends upon various things and the strategy driven by the desired objectives.

For starters, a stepchild is a child of a partner or spouse that you haven’t adopted. If you have adopted them, they are your children.

The answer then turns on what sort of estate documentation exists, if any. If there is a will and/or a trust, sometimes those documents answer the question.

Often there are no estate documents. In … Read More

peace of mind

Peace of Mind Even in Troubled Times

peace of mindCOVID-19 exacerbates worries and fears for everyone. What steps can you take to stay safe from a financial and legal perspective? Now is the right time to improve your business and estate planning with practical financial steps and legal documents to protect your assets now and in the future. The solutions may vary by circumstance, but the practical tips below will provide you with concrete ideas you can use right away.

Check out our recent update, FACTS over FEAR – Financial, Legal and Real Estate Updates, hosted by The Sonoma Brain Trust. For related discussions of other finance, real … Read More

ppp reform

PPP Reform Questions and Answers

ppp reformThere are lots of questions about the anticipated changes to the PPP loan that is awaiting presidential signature. Assuming the legislation is signed as passed, our lawyers consulted with local tax manager Nate Lamar, CPA of Pisenti & Brinker LLP to shed some light on this complicated interplay of laws, tax and regulations.

Of course, before getting into the nitty gritty, as professionals we need to provide a disclaimer that the answers are based on current and proposed federal law and guidance from the Small Business Administration available as of June 4, 2020. Interpretations of the law and SBA guidance … Read More


Current State of Wineries

wineriesSince the onset of the Coronavirus wineries have been operating at a slower rate than normal, by at least more than 60 percent according to Wine America – the national association of wineries.

This based upon a recent survey also indicated that wineries anticipate a decrease in the purchase of grapes from growers for wine production somewhere between 9 to 22 percent. With layoffs of workers and canceled events numbering in the thousands, some estimates tally that financial loss just for the month of March (when the virus went into “Secure In Place” ordinance mode) reached $40,439,764.

While by that … Read More

Eviction Ban Demystified: Resources for Landlords & Tenants

house-with-teens-on-porchIn response to the pandemic, various governmental bodies have acted to provide protections for residential and commercial tenants.  There is a broad eviction moratorium in effect throughout the state as the Judicial Council of California issued an emergency rule effectively prohibiting evictions for 90 days after the lifting of the Shelter in Place requirements.

By way of background, California Governor Gavin Newsom issued a COVID-19 Eviction Defense Ordinance formally referred to as Executive Order N-28-20.  While the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors agreed with Gov. Newsom’s executive order last month to limit residential tenants from evictions due to economic impact … Read More

The Scoop on Short Term Rentals

house-on-hillMy team is fielding numerous calls from panicked landowners who have been served with notices.  “How can I reduce this $7,000 fine?” They ask.  “We paid our Transient Occupancy Tax – through Airbnb?” “And, what about Penalties?” The list from clients goes on and on.

For years folks have benefited from renting parts of their dwellings or ancillary buildings without the benefit of permits.  Technology platforms like Airbnb play into this by allowing an individual to list a property as available as a short-term rental without requiring any permit or verification of such.  The result? Many entrepreneurial folks were able … Read More

Get It, Your Peace of Mind

flowers in a fieldA solid estate plan in its simplest sense is a roadmap.  It sets the decision-makers for when you cannot make them before you die and then after you do so.  Specialized planning can also minimize your long term care expenses or eliminate them all together.  Of course, a solid estate plan documents your wishes with respect to your worldly belongings to be distributed according to your stated desires.

A solid estate plan also can provide peace of mind in moments of uncertainty, a light in the dark, or the clarity in the fog.  It’s a rather simple process.  According to … Read More

Demystifying AB 5 California’s New Independent Contractor Law

person on laptopWith more than 30 new laws on the books affecting business in California, many businesses are now facing increased regulation and mounting expenses.

The implementation of AB 5 by the State of California labor code will no doubt cause confusion. It states as follows…a person providing labor or services for remuneration shall be considered an employee rather than an independent contractor unless the hiring entity demonstrates that all of the following conditions are satisfied: (This is being referred to as the ‘ABC Test’ or ‘Three-part test.’)

(A) The person is free from the control and direction of the hiring entity … Read More

Price Gouging – It’s Still a Thing

row housesAs we move away from the local fires of 2017, we may think less and less about certain emergency orders that were put in place.  Those orders are still in effect.  One is of particular importance for businesses or individuals offering goods, services or rentals: the price gouging statute.

In short – for clients or potential clients looking at renting real estate, the safe value of the property should be linked to the pre-fires value plus an additional 10 percent.  This hopefully will change in a few months as an extended ban on raising rents to fair market values places … Read More

Business Succession Planning

wine barrels in a rowOne of the greatest challenges family businesses face is how to hand over the reins to the next generation.

Even faceless corporate entities struggle to ensure their long-term survival; add the potential for interpersonal drama and hurt feelings among parents and children, and it’s no surprise that the odds are stacked against family businesses enduring the transition. Just 30 percent of family-owned businesses make it to a second generation, 10-15 percent make it to the third, and 3-5 percent make it to the fourth generation, according to a Harvard Business Review study.

We need look no further than our own Read More

Employee of Independent Contractor? A New Ruling Changes Things

man with satchelIf your company relies on independent contractors to do business, you may want to reevaluate your relationship with those workers in the wake of a recent California Supreme Court decision changing the way their employment status should be determined.

The April 30 ruling sent shockwaves through the state’s so-called “gig economy” – created by customer service providers such as Lyft, Uber and GrubHub who use independent contractors to avoid the higher costs that come with hiring employees.

It’s not just these tech-centric startups, however, who may now need to restructure their businesses to avoid the risks of fines, restitution of Read More