Peter Falk’s Law Becomes a Reality in New York

By: Anthony J. Enea, Esq.

For 10 years, Peter Falk brilliantly portrayed Lieutenant Columbo, an LAPD detective of Italian descent, in the hit television series "Columbo" that ran from 1968-1978. While wearing his trademark wrinkled raincoat, chronically absent minded and perpetually disheveled, Columbo would quickly and intellectually disarm a suspected murderer. Through skilled and insightful questioning, and with a keen eye for detail, he was able to solve the most complex homicides.

However, putting Hollywood fantasies aside, Mr. Falk, a native New Yorker and graduate of Ossining High School and Syracuse University, sadly spent his last days allegedly suffering from the ravages of Alzheimer's disease while allegedly isolated from his family and friends by his second wife who was his court appointed conservator under California Law. As Mr. Falk's conservator, she allegedly prevented Mr. Falk's daughter and other family members from visiting him, failed to notify them of major changes in his condition, and even allegedly failed to notify them of his demise in 2011 and his funeral arrangements.

Because of her heart breaking experience, his daughter, Catherine Falk, has fought to have legislation passed nationwide, known as Peter Falk's Law, that provides specific guidelines that guardians/conservators for an incapacitated person must comply with relevant to visitation rights and notice of end of life.

In New York, bill A. 3461-C/S.5154-C was passed by the Assembly and Senate and, on July 21, 2016, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the legislation into law. Thus, New York has become one of the many states that have adopted Peter Falk's Law.

As a result of the enactment of Peter Falk's Law, subdivision (C) of Section 81.16 of the Mental Hygiene Law of New York (MHL) relevant to Guardianship duties has been amended by adding three new paragraphs 4, 5 and 6 which provide as follows:

4. The order of appointment shall identify the person entitled to receive notice of the incapacitated person's death, the intended disposition of the remains of the decedent, funeral arrangements and final resting place when that information is known or can be reasonably ascertained by the guardian.

5. The order of appointment may identify the person or persons entitled to notice of the incapacitated person's transfer to a medical facility.

6. The order of appointment may identify the person entitled to visit the incapacitated person, if they so choose. However, the identification of such persons in the order shall in no way limit the person entitled to visit the incapacitated person.

Clearly, the intent of Peter Falk's Law is to ensure that children from a previous marriage as well as other family members are not denied the right to visit their incapacitated parent and/or loved one by a current spouse who is a guardian/conservator with whom they may have a poor relationship. The law in essence requires that the court appointing a guardian to address the issue of visitation, notice of transfer to a medical facility and death in the initial order appointing a guardian for the incapacitated person. Ultimately, the goal is to prevent a guardian from improperly isolating his or her ward and/or limiting visitation.