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PETER FALK’S LAW: Proposed Law Gives Visitation Rights to Families of Incapacitated Persons

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A bill introduced in Pennsylvania’s Senate proposes to bring “Peter Falk’s Law” to Pennsylvania.  The law provides visitation rights to the families of incapacitated persons who are under the legal custody of a court appointed guardian.  The law also gives notification rights to families regarding the incapacitated person’s change in residence, admission to a hospital and death.

The late actor Peter Falk played Lieutenant Columbo on the television series “Columbo” from 1968-1978.  Wearing a wrinkled raincoat, disheveled and absentminded, Columbo would solve crimes with skill and insightfulness.

Late in life, Peter Falk developed Alzheimer’s disease.  He was allegedly isolated from his family and friends by his second wife who had been appointed his court appointed conservator (guardian).  As his guardian, his wife allegedly prevented Mr. Falk’s daughter and family friends from visiting him, did not notify them of changes in his health and allegedly failed to notify them of his death in 2011.

Peter Falk’s story is not unusual.  Many families have similar experiences.  Often a second marriage has caused a rift between the second spouse and children from a first marriage.   The caregiver spouse refuses access to the children of a first marriage or refuses to notify them of changes in the health, residence or even death of the parent.

Across the country, 12 states have enacted versions of a law often referred to as “Peter Falk’s Law”. Pennsylvania Senate Bill 113 proposes to bring that law to Pennsylvania.  The law would prohibit a court appointed guardian from restricting an incapacitated person’s right to visit with family and friends.   There may be restrictions on the visitation rights, such as to those who pose a threat to the incapacitated person.

If the guardian refuses access, a family may proceed to court to have a judge order the visitation and possibly replace the guardian.   The language of the law provides that you can define those who will have visitation rights in documents such as a power of attorney or advance directive.

The law also proposes that the guardian will have to provide notice to designated persons of the incapacitated person’s residence change, admission to a nursing home or assisted living facility, a hospital and death.   Given the growing popularity of these laws across the country, Pennsylvania may soon be one of those states granting visitation rights to the families of incapacitated persons.