Actor Peter Falk is best known for having portrayed Columbo in the TV series of the same name. The crumpled, crackerjack detective's interviews with murder suspects always concluded with his puzzled statement, "Oh... just one more thing..." That was the "gotcha" moment when the smug suspect and audience alike knew Columbo had nailed the killer.
Now Falk's daughter is doing "one more thing" in honor of her father: Spearheading efforts to give adult children greater rights to visit ailing parents and to get information about their status.
When Catherine was five, Falk divorced her mother. He and Catherine continued to enjoy a close relationship. When in 2008 Falk began to suffer with dementia, his second wife, Shera, made it difficult for Catherine to visit her father and did not give her updates on his health. The situation was similar to what I told you unfolded in the families of the late Mickey Rooney, Casey Kasem, and now, Glen Campbell.
During his period of incapacity, Catherine went to court in California. At great cost, she tried to get guardianship over her father. She learned then that children have few rights in this regard. The court instructed Shera to allow Catherine to visit her father, but Shera did not fully comply. In 2011, Falk passed away at age 83. Shera did not notify Catherine of her father's death; she heard about it from the media. Nor did she tell Catherine about her father's burial, or even his final resting place.
To prevent other adult children and their parents from enduring a similar experience, Catherine is promoting legislation to expand children's rights with respect to incapacitated parents. "There's no legal recourse that adult children have currently that allows them to get any visitation to their parents," says Falk. "They're isolated, and isolation means elder abuse. We need a law to protect us and to protect our parents so that we can have a relationship in their final years and days of their life."
As a result of her efforts, California is considering a bill - the Peter Falk Bill - that would recognize a child's right to visit an incapacitated parent. There is movement in other states to introduce similar bills. Here, from the Catherine Falk Organization website, are the provisions in the California bill. (Note that in that state, the word "conservatorship" is used instead of "guardianship"):
(a) A conservator shall have the duty to keep the parents and adult children of a conservatee reasonably informed regarding the health of the conservatee. A conservator must provide notice within 24 hours to any parent or adult child of the conservatee of any hospitalization or death of the conservatee.
(b) Parents and children of conservatees have a right to reasonable visitation of the conservatee. A conservatee shall not reject visitation made upon reasonable request unless the conservatee determines that visitation would be harmful to the conservatee.
(c) Any parent or child of a conservatee may bring a petition to enforce the right of visitation in the Court that appointed the conservator. Such a petition may be brought in conjunction with a petition for appointment of a conservator.
(d) The court shall grant the petition for visitation unless the court finds, by clear and convincing evidence, that visitation would be harmful to the conservatee. The court may place any reasonable restrictions on such visitation that it determines to be in the best interests of the conservatee.
(e) If the court finds that a conservator rejects a reasonable request for visitation, the court shall award the petitioner his or her costs, including reasonable attorney’s fees, unless the court finds that the conservator acted with a good faith belief that visitation would be harmful to the conservatee.
Further, the Proposed Bill would require cemeteries to open their records regarding interments to the public in order to allow persons to locate the graves of loved ones.
Have you had experiences similar to Catherine Falk's? Tell us your thoughts. Do you think similar laws are needed in Florida?