Most people should have a will. Wills are the legal mechanism for distributing property, naming guardians for children and exceptional individuals, and cancelling out debts, among other tasks. Having a will guarantees that you, rather than New York State, decide who gets your property and how your affairs would be wound down after you die.

In this series, we will explore all things that get done after a person dies to ensure that his or her final wishes are carried out in accordance with their will. Many people die without a will. There are laws in those instances too, that govern the distribution of property when individuals die without a will. The legal term for situations like that is intestacy. Someone who leaves a will before they die is legally known as the testator; while someone who dies without leaving a will is legally known as intestate. This series will be discussing testators and the distribution of property pursuant to a will only.

Understanding the language of probate

Every week it seems there is a new health alert about a new study of a common food item that directly contradicts nutritional norms. The latest to catch my attention was a story in USA Today linking hot tea to esophageal cancer. It starts with the headline, “Drink Hot Tea at Your Own Risk: New Study is Latest to Show Link to Esophageal Cancer.”

The summary of the study is much worse. The study in question was published in the International Journal of Cancer. It tracked the habits of more than 50,000 tea drinkers in a province of Iran. Over a 10-year period, 317 new cases of esophageal cancer were diagnosed. The study found that those who drank more than 24 ounces of tea a day at a temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit had a 90 percent higher risk for esophageal cancer.

From my experience, people either drink coffee or tea. Very few enjoy both equally. Iran happens to be a tea-drinking country. It is ranked 4th in worldwide consumption of tea, behind Turkey, Ireland, and the United Kingdom, the top three tea drinkers in the world. While this specific habit may be true in the lives of the 317 people that were diagnosed with esophageal cancer so is the province they live in. Could the environment have been a contributing factor? We will never know the answer to such a question because it was not studied.

On April 5, 2019, Kathy Lee Gifford, the co-host of the fourth hour of the Today Show retired after 25-years working in daytime television. In an interview in AARP Magazine, she reflects on loss and loneliness. She states,

“If you’re not careful, what you’ve lost in life can define you. It’s so much better to be defined by what you still have, it’s just healthier. I’m making big changes in my life because I need to, really big changes that are feeding my soul. Otherwise, despair sets in and loneliness can be crippling.” | Kathy Lee Gifford

In the article, Ms. Gifford describes being a widow, losing her mother, and becoming an empty nester, all within months of each other. From a life full of others, she now finds herself home alone. To emerge from this cocoon, she next turns her attention to acting and singing.

Being left out of your parent’s will is a difficult pill to swallow. People are free to dispose of their property through a will as they see fit. Only spouses have some statutory protection against being cut-off from the other spouse’s will. If you are the child that has been cut-off from a parent’s will, what should you do? There are time sensitive steps you should take to understand what has happened, and if possible, contest the will. Note, that only family has the power to contest a will.

Obtain a copy of the will

The deceased person or testator who created the will has the final say on who gets what of his or her property. If the will has changed, it could be perfectly legitimate or have been done under duress or diminished mental capacity. The executor will be able to provide you with any previous versions of the will and a list of assets. If you cannot obtain a copy of the will before it enters probate, you are able to receive a copy from the probate or surrogate’s court.

Last month, the legalization of the recreational use and possession of marijuana was removed from consideration in the current New York State budget. In order to obtain revenue from recreational marijuana sales, legislation needs to be passed legalizing the recreational use and possession of marijuana.

Medical marijuana has been legal in New York since July 2014, with the passage of the Compassionate Care Act. Medical marijuana may be used by patients certified by medical practitioners as having serious conditions, like cancer, AIDS, severe chronic pain, and other ailments.

The biology of cannabis

I recently went to the emergency room at my local hospital because I was experiencing severe flank pain. I thought it was my appendix, but instead I was diagnosed with kidney stones. That wasn’t the most unpleasant thing to occur to me on that very painful night.

I arrived at the emergency room at 9:30 PM and was discharged the next morning at 10:00 AM. During those nine-in-a-half hours I was attended by eight different doctors. I never received a status report from the same doctor twice. At first, I thought it was a shift change, but then that would be two to three doctors at most. Eight seemed like something was out of order.

Three days later, I was in the waiting room of the kidney stone specialist’s office waiting for my appointment with Dr. X, a female doctor. I am ushered into the examination room by the medical assistant who takes down my chief complaint and checks my vitals. A short while later there is a knock on the door, and in enter three people that look like doctors, but were all men.

End of life planning is very difficult. On the one hand, you must understand what your assets are and contemplate how to dispose of them after your death in a way that is meaningful to you and the people or organizations you gift. On the other hand, you must identify your standard of medical care and treatment and be able to communicate it to a responsible person so that if and when you lose mental capacities and capabilities, your actual wishes are followed.

Even the best-laid plans can leave you vulnerable and at the mercy of the people around you – spouses or partners, children, and business associates – before you die. An estate plan does not protect someone before he or she dies.

Financial mismanagement concerns

Families today, as always, come in all shapes and sizes. This includes sexual orientation. As gays, lesbians, bi-sexual, and transgender people (LGBT) age and move into retirement communities, nursing homes, and assisted living facilities, how welcome are they?

An individual who has lived a good life at 85 wants to continue living that life as he or she ages and needs assistance with self-care, regardless of where the individual lives – a retirement community, nursing home, or assisted living facility.

Many residents of such places deal with loss on a continual basis no matter their sexual orientation. There are limitations on movement – the ability to come and go as one pleases and limitations on relationships – spouses, partners, and close friends die or because they move away are too far or unable to visit regularly. So there is a tremendous loss of consortium as one ages.

Stan Lee, the co-creator of super heroes like Spider Man and Black Panther was issued a temporary restraining order by California against his legal guardian, Keya Morgan in the months before his death.

Morgan was arrested for filing a police report in relation to Mr. Lee. Morgan was Mr. Lee’s guardian-ad-litem. Mr. Lee suffered from hearing, vision, and memory impairments.

It is alleged that Morgan began inserting himself into Mr. Lee’s life as a caregiver after the death of Mr. Lee’s wife. Mr. Lee, the Los Angeles Police Department and Adult Protective Services believed Morgan was unduly influencing Mr. Lee and isolating him from his friends and family.   

Mental illness is hard to spot in people. This is especially true for seniors. Part of the difficulty with identifying who may be suffering from a mental illness is the social stigma associated with mental illnesses and treatment for mental illnesses. If you yourself are experiencing cognitive decline because of aging or an underlying illness like Alzheimer’s Disease, it may be up to your close friends and family members to identify a potential problem and seek appropriate medical advice from a mental health provider.

1 in 5 adults aged 55 or order have had a mental health concern

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that over 20% of adults aged 55 years or older have had a mental health concern but only two-thirds of this group have received treatment.

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